Barnier: Only 'very narrow' path to post-Brexit trade deal remains

18 December 2020, 09:08 | Updated: 18 December 2020, 18:11

Michel Barnier warned there is only a "very narrow" path
Michel Barnier warned there is only a "very narrow" path. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has warned there is only a "very narrow" path to a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK as both sides stand at the "moment of truth".

He told the European Parliament in Brussels today: "It's the moment of truth.

"We have very little time remaining, just a few hours, to work through these negotiations in useful fashion if we want this agreement to enter into force on January 1.

"There is a chance of getting an agreement but the path to such an agreement is very narrow."

"We're not asking more nor less than a balance between rights and obligations and reciprocity, access to our markets and access to our waters and the other way round, no more, no less.

"It's also obvious that this isn't an agreement we will sign at any price or any cost.

READ MORE: EC chief says 'substantial progress made'

"I think I've always been frank with you and open and sincere. I cannot say what will come during this last home straight of negotiations. We have to be prepared for all eventualities."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned the prospect of agreeing a trade deal with the EU is "looking difficult".

The PM said on Friday the onus is on the bloc seeing "sense" and making a compromise or the transition period will end on December 31 without a deal, which he acknowledged would be "difficult" in the short-term.

Mr Johnson reiterated "no sensible government" could agree to a treaty that does not give the nation control of its laws and waters, two major sticking points for No 10 in the negotiations as the brinkmanship continued.

Speaking during a visit to Greater Manchester, the PM said: "Our door is open, we'll keep talking, but I have to say things are looking difficult.

"There's a gap that needs to be bridged, the UK has done a lot to try and help and we hope that our EU friends will see sense and come to the table with something themselves, because that's really where we are."

Last night Ursula von der Leyen said there has been "substantial progress" in Brexit talks but "big differences remain to be bridged."

Following a call with prime minister Boris Johnson on Thursday evening, the European Commission president said she welcomed progress towards a deal but warned the situation remains "very challenging".

She tweeted: "We welcomed substantial progress on many issues. Yet big differences remain to be bridged, in particular on fisheries."Bridging them will be very challenging. Negotiations will continue tomorrow."

A Downing Street spokesperson said the PM told Ms von der Leyen the UK is "making every effort" to comply with EU requests but the bloc's position on fisheries remains "simply not reasonable".

Mr Johnson warned negotiators needed to "shift significantly" if the two sides are to strike a deal by the Sunday deadline.