Senior EU official says UK-EU trade deal 'difficult but still possible'

Clay Curtis
October 15, 2020

The Prime Minister noted the desirability of a deal, but expressed his disappointment that more progress had not been made over the past two weeks.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Some progress has been made this week, primarily in technical areas of the negotiations, but there are still differences, with fisheries being the starkest".

Boris Johnson has held a phone call with president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and president of the European Council Charles Michel.

European Union hopeful to extend Brexit talks beyond October 15 deadline, Johnson will make a decision today. Months of painstaking talks have narrowed the gaps on issues from energy ties to coordinating social benefits from 2021 when Britain's standstill transition period after leaving the bloc ends.

Both sides are calling on the other to compromise on key issues, including fishing and limits on government subsidies to businesses.

Mr Johnson's Europe adviser Lord Frost is taking part in negotiations in Brussels until the eve of the summit. "This can not, however, happen at any price", said European Council president Charles Michel. The coming days are decisive. "But we must also face up to reality, because an agreement must of course be in the interests of both sides".

"The chances of no deal are still appreciable, but I continue to think that this would be more by accident than design", said UBS economist Dean Turner.

These areas, covering state aid and other guarantees of fair competition, fishing rights and dispute settlement procedures, have always been the main sticking points.

But come 7 September, Boris Johnson made a decision to shorten the deadline.

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Thursday is that day - but Downing Street appears to have moved back from it as a hard deadline.

Germany's chief European Union negotiator, Michael Roth, said Tuesday the talks were "at a very critical stage" and that the "no deal scenario" is the worst for both sides.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson claims that Britain will walk away if an agreement is not within reach by Thursday.

On Tuesday, an official in President Emmanuel Macron's office warned that sacrificing the country's fishing industry to secure a wider trade accord would be out of the question, while the country's foreign affairs minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, told lawmakers that a no-deal Brexit looks likely at this point.

Mr Johnson said in September that there "needs to be an agreement with our European friends by the time of the European Council on October 15 if it's going to be in force by the end of the year".

He added that "everything should be played out" between October 15 and "mid-November".

European Union leaders are set to give the green light for chief negotiator Michel Barnier to intensify talks with the United Kingdom, with a view to securing a new trade pact, but the prospects of an imminent breakthrough remain low, according to the draft conclusions of an upcoming European Union summit, seen by EURACTIV.

Formal talks began in March and continued throughout the pandemic, initially via video link before in-person discussions resumed over the summer.

If no deal is reached, trade rules will revert to the bare bones of World Trade Organisation regulations.

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