Barnier: Limited progress in Brexit talks but deal still possible

14 December 2020, 10:07 | Updated: 14 December 2020, 10:18

Michel Barnier says he hopes a Brexit deal can be reached
Michel Barnier says he hopes a Brexit deal can be reached. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

A trade deal between the UK and European Union is still possible, Brussels' chief negotiator Michel Barnier insisted this morning as it emerged "limited" progress has been made in one disputed area.

Talks were extended on Sunday after Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen agreed to continue the process going "the extra mile" to reach a deal.

Mr Barnier updated diplomats from the 27 EU states about the progress which has been made before resuming negotiations with his UK counterpart Lord Frost.

The Reuters news agency, citing an unnamed senior EU diplomat, reported chief negotiator Mr Barnier had told ambassadors there had been "limited" progress on one area around settling future trade disputes.

Mr Barnier confirmed that fishing rights and the 'level playing field' remained the main issues, saying "two conditions are not met yet" but "this deal, it is still possible".

READ MORE: Brexit trade talks to 'go extra mile' in bid to secure deal

Business Secretary Alok Sharma told LBC today that he hoped a deal could be reached by December 31.

The UK's current trading arrangements with the EU expire at the end of the month, meaning any new deal would have to be in place by January 1.

If not, tariffs and quotas will apply and red tape will increase.

Irish premier Micheal Martin said it will be difficult for the EU and UK negotiating teams to "square the circle" to reach a post-Brexit trade deal.

But the Taoiseach said both sides are aware of the "enormity and severity" of a no-deal Brexit on their respective economies.

"They have really sought to crack the level playing field issue along with fisheries and, crucially, this dispute mechanism that would underpin any level playing field framework," he said.

The need for any deal to be approved by Parliament means that talks cannot continue right up until New Year's Eve, but MPs are braced for the prospect of sitting over the festive period.

Sunday's deadline for a decision on the future of the talks saw Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen agree to "go the extra mile" in search of a solution.

Mr Johnson, speaking after the call, said the UK would not be walking away from the negotiating table and that "where there is life, there is hope".

But he continued to warn that a no-deal outcome was still the most likely scenario.

He said the country should get ready for the breakdown of talks, resulting in tariffs under World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms from January 1 - a move that is predicted to cost jobs, cause food prices to rise and wipe £45 billion off the economy next year.

"The most likely thing now is, of course, that we have to get ready for WTO terms, Australia terms," the Prime Minister said.

French MEP Nathalie Loiseau, an ally of president Emmanuel Macron, suggested that a no-deal scenario would simply lead to more talks in 2021.

Downing Street has repeatedly ruled out negotiations continuing in 2021.

Optimism around the continuation of the talks on Monday was reflected in the currency markets.

"Sterling has rallied 1.2% to $1.3390 versus the US dollar as markets showed some relief that EU trade talks haven't collapsed,' says Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.