EU must make 'substantial shift' to save Brexit trade talks, UK says

19 December 2020, 23:38 | Updated: 19 December 2020, 23:42

The UK has said Europe must be flexible to get a Brexit deal over the line
The UK has said Europe must be flexible to get a Brexit deal over the line. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The European Union must make a "substantial shift" to save post-Brexit trade talks or Britain will leave on WTO terms, the UK has said.

Britain warned that the negotiations will fail unless the EU shows "flexibility" in the remaining days of talks, with the Brexit transition period expiring on 31 December.

The two sides have been continuing dialogue in Brussels over the weekend, however UK sources have said No Deal is looking increasingly likely.

Sunday evening was given as the deadline by the European Parliament for an agreement to be reached so it could be ratified in time by the UK and EU.

However, leaders in the bloc could provisionally sign off on a deal and leave ratification until 2021.

Meanwhile, those on the British side expect negotiations to continue a few days longer in the week leading up to Christmas.

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But optimism is at a premium, with contacts close to the UK team accusing the EU of making "unreasonable" demands on issues such as fisheries and fair competition rules.

A UK Government source said: "We need to get any deal right and based on terms which respect what the British people voted for.

"Unfortunately, the EU are still struggling to get the flexibility needed from member states and are continuing to make demands that are incompatible with our independence.

"We cannot accept a deal that doesn't leave us in control of our own laws or waters.

"We're continuing to try every possible path to an agreement, but without a substantial shift from the commission we will be leaving on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms on December 31."

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

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Divergences on fishers seem to have become even wider in recent days. Despite, the fishing industry accounting for only a negligible proportion of the EU and UK economies, it carries huge political weight on both sides of the Channel.

While Britain says it is entitled - as an independent, sovereign nation - to take control of its waters, countries like France are determined to defend their fishermen who stand to lose their livelihoods if they can no longer fish in UK waters.

If there is no deal by 31 December, the UK will leave the single market and customs union and begin trading with the EU on WTO terms - with the imposition of tariffs potentially leading to higher prices in the shops.