Britain 'has choices to make' on new trade deal: European Union diplomats

Darnell Taylor
November 16, 2020

Meanwhile, ministers will today tell Irish businesses to prepare for the increased customs regulations that will come into effect from January, even in the event of a last-gasp deal on the UK's future relationship with Europe.

"You can always squeeze out extra time if you need to, if you're almost there".

Ireland, the European Union member state most exposed to Brexit, said Britain and the bloc had up to 10 days to unlock talks to avoid tariffs and quotas kicking in from January 1, 2021, slashing an estimated trillion dollars worth of annual commerce.

British officials repeatedly say any deal must respect the country's sovereignty but the European Union says the proximity of Britain to the bloc means Brussels can not hand it a trade deal similar to those it has agreed with countries such as Canada.

'We are working to get a deal, but the only one that's possible is one that is compatible with our sovereignty and takes back control of our laws, our trade, and our waters'. "That has been our consistent position from the start and I will not be changing it", said Lord Frost, the United Kingdom negotiator, ahead of the latest round.

Britain's chief negotiator, David Frost, said on Sunday there had been some progress over recent days and that the two sides had common draft treaty texts though significant elements were yet to be agreed.

Hancock also spoke of Johnson, describing the prime minister as "full of beans" despite self-isolating due to being in close proximity with lawmaker Lee Anderson, who attended a meeting with the PM on Thursday before testing positive for the coronavirus.

Officials on both sides did not seem optimistic ahead of the last round of discussions.

Johnson's Downing Street office said there had been no change to its Brexit strategy after Cummings' departure, and it reiterated its uncompromising line in a statement on Monday. "He's got to deliver on his promise to the British people and get that deal".

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"Either the British accept and we then move on to hard negotiations on fisheries, or they refuse, and we will then be out of time and the negotiations fail", a senior European diplomat warned.

United Kingdom sources said there were still "quite big gaps" between the sides.

United Kingdom chief negotiator David Frost is in Brussels for another round of negotiations ahead of a European Council video summit on Thursday which has been touted as a deadline for a draft deal. A deal "is there to be done", says UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Officials on both sides say a deal is still fundamentally possible; but place the emphasis on the other team of negotiators to get there.

The issues which are still to be ironed out are thought to include the ongoing row over fishing rights, how any deal between the two parties would be governed, and the "level playing field" measures aimed at preventing unfair competition on issues including state subsidies.

A further complication is the question of the Irish border, which was solved by last year's withdrawal agreement until the United Kingdom tried to overwrite it with domestic law.

With wearisome predictability, the talks on a post-Brexit EU-UK trade deal will come down to one final last week of negotiations, with a summit in Brussels at the end of it, on 19 November.

But earlier, he told Sky News there was still "some way between us" and "time is very, very short" to agree a deal.

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