Post-Brexit trade deal talks 'to continue on Monday', UK Govt source says

20 December 2020, 20:04 | Updated: 20 December 2020, 20:14

Brexit trade talks are expected to continue tomorrow, according to a UK Government source
Brexit trade talks are expected to continue tomorrow, according to a UK Government source. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Post-Brexit trade deal talks are expected to continue tomorrow despite "significant differences" remaining, a UK Government source has said.

It comes after Michel Barnier said that Britain must respect the European Union's sovereignty in Brexit trade talks if a deal is to be reached.

The EU's chief negotiator said the bloc "remains committed to a fair, reciprocal and balanced agreement" but that both sides must be free to act when their interests are at stake.

On Sunday evening, the UK Government source said discussions in Brussels had been "difficult" and divergences remain over two key sticking points: fisheries and state aid rules.

"Teams have been negotiating throughout the day and expect to continue tomorrow. Talks remain difficult and significant differences remain," the source said.

"We continue to explore every route to a deal that is in line with the fundamental principles we brought into the negotiations."

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

Watch: Sovereignty rhetoric in Brexit talks 'pathetic,' asserts EU Vice President

In a statement posted on Twitter, Brussels' chief negotiator said talks with his UK counterpart Lord Frost were at a "crucial moment".

"The EU remains committed to a fair, reciprocal and balanced agreement. We respect the sovereignty of the UK. And we expect the same," he said.

"Both the EU and the UK must have the right to set their own laws and control their own waters. And we should both be able to act when our interests are at stake."

A UK Government source had previously warned that the talks would fail unless the EU showed a "substantial shit" in its position.

Britain has accused the bloc of making "unreasonable demands" and of failing to respect UK sovereignty over fishing rights and fair competition rules.

The two sides have been locked in negotiations in Brussels over the weekend but an apparent stalemate seems to suggest the Brexit transition period will expire on 31 December without a deal being reached.

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The government source said: "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 31 December."

Meanwhile, speaking on LBC's Swarbrick on Sunday, European Parliament Vice President Heidi Hautala said she believes the rhetoric around sovereignty coming from the UK is "pathetic".

"I think the closer to the Brexit date... we get, the more often we hear sovereignty but from the EU point of view, come on, this is a world where we need transnational cooperation," she told Tom Swarbrick.

"I find it totally pathetic to continue to speak about sovereignty in the modern world," Ms Hautala insisted, arguing "you have to pool your sovereignties in the modern world."

Elsewhere, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he believed a deal was still possible but said it would require movement on the EU side.

"We want these talks to reach a positive conclusion. I think everybody wants a deal. Unfortunately, the EU have put in some unreasonable demands," he told Sky News' Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme.

"I'm sure that a deal can be done but obviously it needs movement on the EU side."

The European Parliament had previously said talks need to reach a conclusion by Sunday evening if it is to ratify any deal before the transition ends.

However, EU leaders could provisionally sign off on any agreement - leaving ratification to 2021 - and the British side expects the talks to continue a few days longer in the week leading up to Christmas.

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.