Barnier proposes four more days of make-or-break Brexit talks with UK

MEPs are frustrated with the delays and may have to ratify a deal between Christmas and the New Year.

epa08848393 EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier (L) leaves Brexit talks in London, Britain, 28 November 2020. British and EU negotiators are holding talks this weekend in London to try and thrash out a Brexit deal.  EPA/VICKIE FLORES
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Michel Barnier told Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) he is prepared for another four days of last-ditch Brexit negotiations with the UK, while both sides sounded gloomy about striking a trade deal in that time.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator and David Frost, his British counterpart, resumed talks in London on Saturday. The Frenchman declined to comment after the discussion, but earlier said, "We are not far from the take-it-or-leave it moment," according to a European source.

Last week, talks were taken online after a member of Mr Barnier's team tested positive for coronavirus.

In a private meeting on Friday, Mr Barnier told MEPs that he would work through the weekend and then "maybe one or two more days" in a final effort to reach an agreement with the UK.

With five weeks left until the end of the transition period, Mr Barnier was advised by European parliament officials that scrutinising and voting on an accord before the end of the year would be difficult if a deal were not made by Wednesday.

The news came as British interior minister Priti Patel said the talks were continuing.

"As a government, we're very clear in our commitment to make sure that those talks continue so we can get to a conclusive end, but at the same time we are preparing in the way in which our country would expect us to prepare for the end of transition," Ms Patel said.

Despite now agreeing on many aspects of a deal, the two sides are at odds on fishing policy, level playing field provisions and governance.

Mr Barnier was reported to have told European ambassadors that as part of a free trade deal the EU was prepared to offer the UK between 15 per cent and 18 per cent of the fish quota caught at present in British waters. That was dismissed by Westminster as "derisory".

MEPs have voiced frustration with the delays and may have to ratify a deal between Christmas and the New Year.

A failure to reach a deal would result in a messy separation on January 1, with the sides forced to trade on World Trade Organisation terms.

That would mean tariffs imposed on goods travelling into mainland Europe, border checks, and a situation that is widely expected to cause economic chaos.

Britain has largely been trading on the same terms with the EU since it officially left the bloc in January as part of a transition agreement that expires at the end of the year.