Brexit trade deal still far from being reached

Several Member States see negotiations continue past the end of the transition phase even if that means there is a brief “no deal” period

A trade deal with Britain was reaching “a make-or-break moment”, according to EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. At a briefing in Brussels with Member States’ envoys he pointed out that the talks were still blocked on fishing rights in British waters, ensuring fair competition guarantees and ways to solve future disputes.

The diplomats in response urged him not to be rushed into an unsatisfactory agreement, Reuters reported. “A deal still hangs in the balance,” a senior EU diplomat who was at the briefing said. “There is a worry that because of this pressure of time there is a temptation to rush,” he pointed out. “We told him: don’t do that.” Another senior diplomat said several Member States would rather see negotiations continue past the end of the transition phase even if that means there is a brief “no deal” period.

Britain formally left the EU on 31 January but then entered a transition period under which EU laws apply until the end of this year to give citizens and businesses time to adapt. A free-trade deal need to be in place by 1 January, when EU rules for the internal market and the EU Customs Union will cease to apply to Britain, but the chances of a damaging “no deal” grow as that deadline looms.

So far Britain does not agree to extending the transition period with the EU, a government official said on Wednesday, after a senior EU diplomat suggested member states might want trade talks to continue beyond 31 December.

A third EU diplomat said that while intensive negotiations are continuing in London this week, it was still unclear whether negotiators could bridge the gaps on the three main sticking points. “As we are entering the endgame of the Brexit negotiations, some member states are becoming a bit jittery,” the diplomat said after the ambassadors’ meeting with Barnier.

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