Brexit: UK-EU trade talks enter critical 48-hour period


The UK and EU continue to negotiate as talks on a post-Brexit trade deal enter another critical 48-hour period.

Talks in Brussels are understood to be focused on how many years it will take to phase in new fisheries arrangements.

With the two sides at odds over access to UK fishing waters and quota levels, the EU’s negotiator said the “moment of truth” had arrived and there were “only a few hours left” to seal an agreement.

Boris Johnson has vowed to keep talking but warned gaps had yet to be bridged.

Senior MEPs in the European Parliament have said they will not be “rushed” into signing off a deal on their side and want to see the text of any agreement by Sunday if they are to approve it by the end of the year.

The UK will stop following the EU’s trading rules in less than two weeks time.

If there is no agreement by 1 January, the two sides will rely on World Trade Organization (WTO) rules to govern exports and imports, which could see charges introduced on goods being sold and bought – and could lead to an increase in prices.

Speaking in the European Parliament on Friday, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said it was “the moment of truth” for the talks and while there was still a “chance” of a deal, the “path was very narrow”.

Earlier, he met fishing ministers from EU states to discuss the continuing divisions over the issue.

The two sides have been at odds over the length of time it will take to introduce new arrangements once the UK leaves the bloc’s Common Fisheries Policy.

Tony Connelly, RTE’s Europe editor, said: “I think we are really in the final stages because it looks like they are just now talking about fish, perhaps state aid as well, but all of the issues have been boxed off and we are now in final hours focusing on fisheries.”

Mr Connelly told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that although fishing only makes up a small part of the UK economy, for fishing communities in Europe, it is a “moment of real pain.”

“They have built up an industry, they have invested in boats and they’ve had access to these waters for decades, if not centuries and it has been taken away from them and they have not real say in the matter, they had no part in the vote – so feelings are running pretty high,” he said.

He added that while both sides would like to come to an agreement this weekend, “I don’t think either side wants to be pressurised into last minute concessions they will regret later.”

The UK, led by its chief negotiator David Frost, has insisted its sovereign rights over its waters must be respected from day one and its fleets must be able to keep a much larger share of their own catch.

The EU is insisting on a much longer transition period, with guarantees on access and how catches are distributed.

Mr Barnier warned on Friday that if the UK wanted to reduce access for EU fishing vessels then it would “maintain its sovereign right” to impose new conditions on UK firms’ access to its common market for goods.

In response, Mr Johnson said the UK side was willing to keep talking but things were looking difficult and urged the EU to “come to the table” with new proposals that recognised the UK’s autonomy.



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