Brexit talks will not continue past Wednesday, EU’s Michel Barnier tells MEPs

Chief Brexit negotiator draws new deadline for end of discussions

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Monday 07 December 2020 13:53
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<p>EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier</p>

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier

Struggling Brexit trade negotiations between the EU and UK will not continue past Wednesday, Michel Barnier has said.

The EU’s chief negotiator told MEPs in a closed meeting on Monday morning that talks were now in their “endgame” and would need to be wrapped up in the coming days.

The deadline comes ahead of a summit of the 27 EU prime ministers and presidents in Brussels on Thursday. The meeting is widely seen as the last formal opportunity for the EU leaders to sign off an agreement.

Diplomats from EU member states say Mr Barnier was downbeat when he updated them earlier on Monday morning, dismissing reports that there had been a breakthrough on the issue of fishing.

He is said to have warned that the two sides were also still apart on the questions of governance, and of fair competition for British businesses – the two other longstanding sticking points.

The chief negotiator is said to have given the impression that the latter issue will be the hardest to overcome.

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney told Irish public broadcaster RTE that Mr Barnier had given a “very gloomy" and "downbeat” assessment of the prospects of a deal.

“Having heard from Michel Barnier this morning, really the news is very downbeat. I would say he is very gloomy, and obviously very cautious about the ability to make progress today," he said.

"There was news last night on some media sources that there was a breakthrough on fishing. That is absolutely not the case from what we’re hearing this morning.

“There really was no progress made yesterday, that’s our understanding and so we’ve got to try to make a breakthrough at some point today, before the two principals, the Commission president and the prime minister speak later on this evening.

“Unfortunately, I’d like to be giving more positive news, but at the moment these negotiations seem stalled, and the barriers to progress are still very much in place."

Back in Westminster, Foreign Office minister James Cleverly insisted that a trade agreement was "nearly there" but warned that negotiators may not be successful in time.

"The vast majority of the elements of this agreement have been resolved and we're now hanging on a small number of important areas where we don't have agreement," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The lack of progress at the weekend is bad news for the prospects of avoiding a no-deal exit from the single market, which will happen automatically on 31 December if nothing is agreed by then.

Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen are set to talk again this evening over the telephone to take stock of whether negotiators have made any ground today.

Asked about Mr Barnier’s comments, a European Commission spokesperson said: “We are not going to speculate on a last chance date. We are fully committed to substantial negotiations; we’ve always said and continue to say it’s the substance that prevails over timing.”

A Downing Street spokesperson appeared to dispute the deadline, telling reporters in Westminster: “Time is obviously now in very short supply, and we are in the final stages, but we are prepared to negotiate for as long as we have time available if we think an agreement is still possible."

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