Britain, EU have week to find Brexit breakthrough

Britain and the European Union have less than 10 days to find a way to unlock trade talks, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Monday, after both sides called on the other to move their position on two of the most troublesome areas. British officials repeatedly say any deal must respect the country’s sovereignty, while the EU says the proximity of Britain to the Union means Brussels cannot hand it a trade deal similar to those it has agreed with countries such as Canada.

The trade talks resume today in Brussels after there was little movement on the most contentious areas – the so-called “level playing field” fair competition rules and fisheries, last week when the two sides missed the latest mid-November deadline. The two sides remain so far deadlocked over these two issues and have called on each other to shift position for the breakthrough needed to secure a deal and offer businesses clarity on what happens at the beginning of next year.

“We really are in the last week to 10 days of this, if there is not a major breakthrough over the next week to 10 days then I think we really are in trouble and the focus will shift to preparing for a no trade deal and all the disruption that that brings,” Coveney told Ireland’s Newstalk radio station. “I think the British government understand only too well that’s required for a deal this week, the real question is whether the political appetite is there to do it. I think we will (get a deal), that’s been my prediction for a while but I won’t be shocked if it all falls apart.”

A senior EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the two sides were “still a bit too far away to be able to feel comfortable”, repeating that Britain needed to make a choice because “the timetable is very tight”. 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.

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