Friday, 22 Jan 2021

Brexit: EU trade talks go down to the wire as minister warns ‘we really are now running out of time’

Talks on a trade deal with the EU may drag on into next week, with not long left until the full effects of Brexit are felt.

Both sides had said an agreement needed to be struck by mid-October to give enough time for the treaty to be ratified and implemented, but stalemate remains.

Brexit happened on 31 January, but for the rest of 2020 the UK signed up to a “transition period”, meaning things like freedom of movement and customs arrangements remained the same.

That was designed to ensure minimal disruption while negotiators tried to hammer out a trade deal to replace the existing arrangements and avoid a no-deal scenario.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is still in London for discussions, after they stretched late into the night on Sunday.

“There are reasons for determination,” was his short message to reporters as talks commenced again on Monday.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said with time running out, some EU countries are growing impatient.

“We hope that the negotiations will have a good end,” she said. “We don’t need a deal at any price and we have made this clear… A deal is in everyone’s interest.”

The remaining disagreements are thought to be on fishing and state aid.

Speaking on Sky News on Monday, Environment Secretary George Eustice said “we really are now running out of time”.

“I know we have been saying that for some weeks,” he admitted. “This is the crucial week we need to get a breakthrough.

“I really do think we are now in the sort of, final week, or 10 days.

“Of course if great progress were made this week and you were nearly there it is always possible to extend those negotiations.”

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