Brexit talks in 'final few days' but 'fundamental divergences' remain

Access to the comments Comments
By Emma Beswick
Britain's chief negotiator David Frost arrives in Brussels for Brexit talks. December 6, 2020.
Britain's chief negotiator David Frost arrives in Brussels for Brexit talks. December 6, 2020.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Francisco Seco

Negotiations between the EU and UK are in their final few days but fundamental divergences remain, the British farming minister said on Sunday.

In an interview on the BBC, George Eustice said: "I think we probably are now in the final few days in terms of being able to decide whether there can be an agreement."

"If the ambience warms up again and actually great progress is made and it’s just sorting out the detail, then you can always find more time, you can always extend,” he added.

"But I think unless we can resolve these quite fundamental divergences...we are going to have to take a position in the next few days."

The comments came after the European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Brexit talks will continue but that there are "three critical issues" that stand in the way of a deal.

Following a phone conversation on Saturday evening, the pair released a joint statement saying that "progress has been achieved in many areas" but that "significant differences remain".

They highlighted the sticking points of a level playing field on how a deal is applied, competition law and fishing; both the UK and EU are in consensus that no agreement is possible if these issues are not resolved, they said.

“We will speak again on Monday evening,” after chief negotiators from both parties have reconvened on in Brussels, the statement read.

The UK's head negotiator Lord Frost headed to the Belgian capital for the talks on Sunday.

Negotiators from London and Brussels have been locked in talks since spring to try and come to a deal they both support before the Brexit transition period is up on December 31.

If they cannot reach a compromise, tariffs for goods crossing between them could apply.

While Britain left the bloc in January, a year-long transition period was established during which EU trading rules applied in the UK.

The Brexit talks were put on hold on Friday after Brussels and London failed to reach an agreement, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said.

Taking to Twitter, Barnier confirmed that after "intense negotiations" in the British capital, he and the UK's chief trade negotiator David Frost had agreed to suspend talks between Britain and the bloc.

He highlighted the three same issues that have plagued the negotiations since March, adding: "We agreed to pause the talks in order to brief our Principals on the state of play of the negotiations. President von der Leyen and Prime Minister Johnson will discuss the state of play tomorrow afternoon."

Barnier took to Twitter again after von der Leyen's statement, saying: "We will see if there is a way forward. Work continues tomorrow."

Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) said on social media that "an agreement is in everyone's best interests" and that "every effort should be made to reach a deal".

"I welcome the fact that negotiators will resume their discussions on an EU and UK trade deal in Brussels tomorrow," he added.