Brexit trade talks at 'very difficult point', Downing Street warns

4 December 2020, 14:27 | Updated: 4 December 2020, 14:29

The European Union's chief negotiator Michel Barnier has been present at talks on Friday
The European Union's chief negotiator Michel Barnier has been present at talks on Friday. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Brexit trade talks are at a "very difficult point" and time is ticking if a deal is to be struck, Downing Street has warned.

It comes after a senior UK Government source claimed on Thursday evening that the prospect of an agreement was “receding” amid calls by Brussels for last-minute concessions.

Negotiations dragged on until 11pm on Thursday, Number 10 confirmed, as both sides look to hammer out a deal.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister told reporters on Friday: "Time is in very short supply and we are at a very difficult point in the talks."

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Both No 10 and the European Commission declined to confirm whether talks are likely to continue into the weekend after reports surfaced that the European Union's chief negotiator Michel Barnier would remain in London, having initially planned to travel back to Brussels on Friday.

Earlier in the week there had been optimism that the prospect of a deal was on the horizon before progress appeared to stall on Thursday.

Speaking on Friday, a spokesman for Boris Johnson said: "We are committed to working hard to try and reach an agreement with the EU and the talks are ongoing.

"There are still some issues to overcome. Time is in very short supply and we are at a very difficult point in the talks.

"What is certain is we will not be able to agree a deal that doesn't respect our fundamental principles on sovereignty, fishing and control.

"Our negotiating team is working extremely hard in order to bridge the gaps that remain."

On Thursday, a senior UK Government source said: “At the 11th hour, the EU is bringing new elements into the negotiation.

“A breakthrough is still possible in the next few days but that prospect is receding.”

Mr Barnier and Lord Frost, the UK's lead negotiator, are both personally involved in Friday's discussions, Downing Street said.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma told broadcasters earlier there were "a number of tricky issues" still outstanding.

Fishing and the so-called "level playing field" aimed at preventing unfair competition on state subsidies and standards remain the main issues to be resolved.

And with the Brexit transition period due to end on December 31, there is little time left to get a deal agreed by negotiators and approved by the EU's leaders, Westminster and the European Parliament.

European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer, asked for an update on fishing rights, told reporters in Brussels: "Today is still a day for negotiations, they are ongoing, so we can't make any comments on the contents of what is being discussed."

The publicly aired Brussels and Westminster tensions came after Ireland's foreign minister Simon Coveney said there was a "good chance" of a trade deal on Thursday.