No10 Threatens To Drag Out Brexit Negotiations To The End Of The Year Despite Michel Barnier’s Wednesday Deadline
Downing Street has rejected this week's deadline for talks on a Brexit deal saying they are prepared to negotiate for "as long as we have time available”.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister admitted the two sides are “in the final stages” but suggested discussions on a long-term agreement could continue through Christmas, all the way up until the end of the transition period on 31 December.
But the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier is believed to have told MEPs that negotiations could go until Wednesday, but no further.
Barnier warned he “cannot guarantee” there will be a deal before an EU council meeting with the heads of the member states in Brussels, which begins on Thursday.
Number 10 did not agree this was the final deadline though, the PM’s spokesman saying: "Time is obviously in very short supply and we're in the final stages, but we're prepared to negotiate for as long as we have time available if we think an agreement is still possible.”
It follows reports the Commons may sit until Christmas Eve to allow MPs to vote through a potential deal, while the EU may call a special summit between Christmas and New Year to ratify the agreement.
There appeared to have been a breakthrough on fisheries, one of the final sticking points, over the weekend, only for both sides to reject any suggestion they had resolved the issue.
With the UK’s chief negotiator Lord Frost in the Belgian capital today, the spokesperson added: "Significant differences remain on critical issues, fisheries being one of them, and that is one of the issues that is currently being negotiated by the team in Brussels today."
Asked about Mr Barnier's downbeat assessment of the current situation he replied: "Our negotiations are ongoing but we remain committed to trying to reach an FTA, and that is what our team is there trying to achieve today, but we are clearly in the final stages now.”
Boris Johnson will speak to the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen later this afternoon in a pre-arranged call, after their previous conversation on Saturday failed to move the negotiations along.
The PM’s spokesperson also suggested the UK would not leave the transition period with a series of mini-deals if a comprehensive free trade agreement is not brokered.
"I think we've been clear that if we can't reach an FTA we will leave on Australian terms,” he said.
"Australia terms would mean the UK trades with the EU under WTO terms based on the principles of free trade.”
He also reiterated the government’s position that negotiations will not continue into 2021.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe