EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has reportedly expressed his belief to Brussels colleagues that a Brexit trade deal could get done with the UK, just days after publicly saying it was “unlikely”.
Reuters reports that Barnier told a meeting of EU officials today that a deal could be completed before the end of the post-Brexit transition period on 31 December.
Sources at the meeting said Barnier told them that he “remain[s] confident that a balanced and sustainable deal remains possible, even if less ambitious”.
The comments are in stark contrast to the tone Barnier employed at a press conference on Thursday.
Barnier hit out at the UK for not showing “a willingness to break the deadlock”, adding that a deal was now “unlikely”.
UK chief negotiator David Frost also said a no trade deal exit from the EU’s single market and customs union was a real possibility now, but that an agreement could still be reached by September.
The deadline for a deal is 31 December, but both sides have said the deal needs to be agreed months before that to get it ratified in time.
The two largest areas of contention are still EU fishing access to UK waters and business competition regulations known as the level playing field.
UK negotiators are asking for fishing rights to British waters to be decided on “zonal attachment”, reflecting where the fish actually live.
Under the previous arrangement, EU countries had extensive access to UK fishing waters under the Common Fisheries Policy.
Barnier said the UK’s position on fisheries would lead to a “near total exclusion of EU fishing access to UK waters”.
Brussels is also asking the UK to match EU regulations on a number of areas such as labour laws, environmental laws and state aid provision to ensure a level playing field for businesses on both sides of the channel.
Last week, Barnier said: “A less ambitious agreement on goods and services will not lead the EU to drop its demands for a robust level playing field.”