Prime Minister warns “time is very short” for a Brexit deal
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that “time is very short” to overcome key stumbling blocks in Brexit negotiations, as EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier meets with ministers today to try and hammer out a last-minute trade deal.
“There is much work to be done if we’re going to bridge what are the significant gaps that remain between our positions in the most difficult areas,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said this afternoon. “And time is very short.”
Barnier is set to meet UK envoy David Frost in London today as Brexit negotiations enter their eleventh-hour ahead of the transition period deadline on 31 December.
Talks between the pair were due to wrap up yesterday, but Number 10 has now extended discussions until Wednesday in the hopes of seeking compromises over the main sticking points.
Fisheries remain the major hurdle in reaching a UK-EU trade deal, after France this week refused to soften its stance on Britain’s access to fishing waters post-Brexit.
Government sources yesterday said they are holding out hope that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will step in to persuade French President Emmanuel Macron to budge on the issue.
Frost and Barnier have also locked heads over the issue of state aid rules, which limit government bailouts for ailing companies in order to ensure fair economic competition. The UK earlier this year rejected EU demands for Britain to continue following the bloc’s rules on such subsidies as part of a trade agreement.
The two sides have also failed to find middle ground on the future of the City, following several missed deadlines for completing necessary questionnaires. The UK is seeking equivalence arrangements for financial services, which would see British firms allowed to operate on a business as usual basis with the EU post-Brexit.
However, Barnier has repeatedly warned the UK that equivalence will only be granted if it is in the EU’s interest.
“We must look beyond short-term adaptation and fragmentation costs, to our long-term interests… And so, we will only grant equivalences in those areas where it is clearly in the interest of the EU; of our financial stability; our investors and our consumers,” said the EU negotiator.
“What does this mean in practice? It means that you need to get ready for 1 January 2021!”, he added.
Johnson originally set 15 October as an “informal” deadline for reaching the “outline of a deal” with the EU, warning that he would walk away from discussions if an agreement had not been met by that date.
Both sides returned to the negotiating table last Thursday after a week-long standoff over the passed deadline, with Barnier telling reporters “every day counts”.