UK 'still plugging away' at Brexit negotiations says Foreign Office minister

7 December 2020, 08:37 | Updated: 7 December 2020, 08:41

By Megan White

The UK is "still plugging away" at Brexit negotiations as trade talks continue on Monday, Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly told LBC.

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari, Mr Cleverly insisted negotiations would continue "until either we get an agreement or we run out of time.”

He also criticised Labour MPs for using the phrase 'oven ready deal' in relation to the talks, adding that "they are either displaying ignorance or dishonesty."

Read more: Minister tells LBC Brexit negotiations 'could be extended beyond Wednesday cutoff'

He spoke as Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen are set to assess whether a post-Brexit trade deal can be salvaged following a weekend of tense negotiations.

Asked whether there had been a breakthrough in negotiations or whether the two sides were still in “deadlock,” Mr Cleverly said: “There’s always going to be speculation – it’s understandable, there’s a huge amount of interest as we go into the final phase of negotiations.

“I’m going to wait either until I hear from David Frost or the Prime Minister to know exactly what’s going on, but my understanding is we are still pushing, we are still plugging away at these negotiations, and we will do until either we get an agreement or we run out of time.”

The two leaders will speak on Monday evening - their second call in a little over 48 hours - after their top negotiators spent Sunday locked in detailed talks.

Michael Gove will also meet EU Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič today in Brussels.

Mr Cleverly added: “Until there is a breakthrough, there is a deadlock, so there you go, that explains everything.”

He said he did not know when the final deadline was for a deal but said the Government would need to move “pretty quickly – there can’t be much time left.”

He said: “In my experience when I’ve done negotiations in the commercial world, and having watched the EU do negotiations, they almost always go to the wire, they almost all go to the final minute, and that deadline, that pressure, tends to focus the mind of the negotiators on both sides of the table and help get things over the line.

“So whilst it would have been lovely to get this nailed down sooner, I have to confess, it’s not the biggest surprise that this is going to the last possible moment.

“But as I say, we should know where we stand fairly soon.”

Quizzed about the Government having an “oven ready deal,” Mr Cleverly said: “We did, Nick, and that was the Withdrawal Agreement as I am sure you remember.

“There are some people in politics trying to play games on this, and I noticed a number of Labour MPs using that phrase.

“The oven ready deal was about the Withdrawal Agreement, and as promised, the Prime Minister got that through the House of Commons shortly after securing the General Election majority.

“For those people talking about an oven ready deal in relation to this trade agreement, they are either displaying ignorance or dishonesty.”

Mr Cleverly said the possibility of a no-deal Brexit should not be viewed as "Armageddon" and that the EU should display more flexibility in the final stages of the negotiations.

He said: "Countries can trade perfectly well without a formal trade agreement, as Australia does with the EU.

"There have been people trying to paint the idea of us leaving without a trade agreement as some kind of Armageddon.

"It is less preferable than having a trade agreement but ... you can trade successfully with the EU without a formal trade agreement.

"If that's what we have to do then that's what we have to do, but we are in a position where we can do something better if the EU displays a little bit of flexibility and adaptability in these final hours or days of negotiations."

The talks are due to continue in Brussels on Monday after Mr Barnier has briefed a breakfast meeting of ambassadors from the 27 EU member states on the state of play.

In the febrile mood surrounding the negotiation, British sources denied reports on Sunday that there had been a breakthrough on the thorny issue of future fishing rights.

Reports suggested they had agreed to a transition period for phasing in changes for access for EU boats to UK waters of between five and seven years.

However, a UK Government source said: "There's been no breakthrough on fish. Nothing new has been achieved on this today."

Meanwhile EU negotiators are reported to be insisting on a "ratchet clause" under which the UK would face additional tariffs if it failed to mirror changes to EU rules on issues like environmental standards and workers' rights.