The United Kingdom and European Union will resume in-person Brexit trade talks in London this weekend, as negotiators race to ink a deal before the end of deadline. It comes after European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier went for a period of self-isolation after a fellow team-member tested positive for COVID-19 last week. Before starting his trip to the United Kingdom, he said the “same significant divergences persist” in negotiations. After landing the Kingdom, he said he would work with “patience and determination”.
Earlier, Boris Johnson insisted the chances of a deal depended on the European Union. Speaking on Friday, the PM told reporters that “there’s a deal there to be done if they want to do it”. But he added “substantial and important differences” still exist between the two parties, with just over a month left before a December deadline. Negotiators are trying to finalize a deal to govern their trading relationship once the United Kingdom’s post-Brexit transition reaches its deadline in Jan 2021.
Talks have been continuing via video link for the past week or so, after a member of Barnier’s team contracted the coronavirus. The negotiator travelled to London after briefing European Union ambassadors and members of the European Parliament on Brexit talks.
“In line with Belgian rules, my team and I are no longer in quarantine. Physical negotiations can continue,” he wrote on Twitter.
Ahead of face to face talks getting back under way, his United Kingdom counterpart Lord David Frost vowed to “do my utmost” see if a deal is inked.
“It is late, but a deal is still possible, and I will continue to talk until it’s clear that it isn’t,” he tweeted on Friday.
He added that any agreement would have to “fully respect UK sovereignty,” including over fishing waters and subsidizing businesses. “An agreement on any other basis is not possible,” he added.
Asked abut the odds of reaching an agreement, Johnson said the likelihood of deal is very much determined by our friends and partners in the EU”. The PM added that a trade deal would “benefit people on both sides of the Channel,” but insisted the UK could “prosper mightily” without one.
“Everybody’s working very hard – but clearly there are substantial and important differences to be bridged, but we’re getting on with it.”