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Brexit trade talks deadline arrives as key issues still remain

Boris Johnson is due to speak with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen later today.

Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels earlier this week.
Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels earlier this week.
Image: AP/PA Images

POST-BREXIT TRADE talks have entered their final day, with the UK and European Union continuing last-ditch efforts to find a breakthrough on a deal before the weekend deadline.

Negotiators were set to carry on discussions into the early hours while Boris Johnson will again speak with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen later today, despite pessimism from both sides.

British negotiator David Frost arrived at European Commission headquarters earlier this morning to see his EU counterpart Michel Barnier.

Sources in the British Government warned the offer on the table from the EU is still “unacceptable” to the UK, with the country teetering on the edge of a no-deal Brexit that is predicted to cost jobs and force food prices to increase.

The trade talks continue to be deadlocked over the thorny issues of fishing rights and the so-called level playing field ‘ratchet’ that would tie the UK to future EU standards.

Johnson and von der Leyen had a dinner meeting in Brussels during the week in which both agreed a firm decision on the future of negotiations was needed by the end of the weekend.

The outlook after discussions yesterday was described as “very difficult” but officials said the prime minister is determined to explore every option to secure a free trade agreement.

A British government source said: “Talks are continuing overnight, but as things stand the offer on the table from the EU remains unacceptable.

“The Prime Minister will leave no stone unturned in this process, but he is absolutely clear: any agreement must be fair and respect the fundamental position that the UK will be a sovereign nation in three weeks’ time.”

The prime minister is expected to give a press conference or issue a recorded statement to update the nation once he finishes a call with Europe’s top official.

Johnson and von der Leyen have warned a no-deal outcome looks more likely than an agreement in the trade negotiations.

With Johnson describing a no-deal as “very, very likely”, the British government has stepped up preparations for crashing out of the single market when transition arrangements end on December 31, with Johnson taking personal control of ensuring the country is ready.

He is leading a ‘Super XO’ committee to oversee preparations as ministers look to ensure food, medicines – including coronavirus vaccines – and other critical goods can continue to reach the country uninterrupted next year.

In a move likely to incense EU leaders, a government spokesman revealed the UK had “run live exercises” that involved scrambling “naval vessels to respond to threats of illegal fishing in our soon-to-be sovereign waters” as part of readiness efforts.

It follows confirmation from the Ministry of Defence yesterday that four Royal Navy gunboats have been placed on stand-by to guard British waters from EU trawlers if there is no agreement – an announcement that has been greeted with anger by some senior Tories.

Reports also suggest ministers are considering beefing up Navy powers in legislation to authorise them to board and arrest fishermen found to be contravening post-Brexit rules.

Fisheries

Brussels has called for the status quo on fishing rights to continue for 12 months in the event of no-deal – a request that appears to have been rejected after the Government revealed plans to scale up patrols.

Johnson, in a speech at a climate change summit yesterday, appeared to take a dig at French President Emmanuel Macron over the fishing row.

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Macron is said to have threatened to veto a UK-EU deal after expressing dissatisfaction at the new quota terms being thrashed out for French fishermen.

In his closing remarks, Johnson thanked the summit co-host Macron, adding that he knew the president “shares my keen interest in protecting the ecosystems of our seas”.

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