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Irish PM confident on Brexit, believes British PM wants deal

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Ireland’s prime minister (pictured) has said he thinks Britain and the European Union will strike a post-Brexit trade deal and that the resumption of talks this week is a good sign despite the challenges that remain, writes Padraic Halpin.

Both sides have said they made good progress in the latest talks on a last-minute trade deal that would stave off a tumultuous finale to the five-year-old Brexit crisis, but fish is still the biggest sticking point.

“My gut instinct is that the (British) prime minister does want a deal,” Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin told an online conference.

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Johnson and EU's von der Leyen may speak this week, Times Radio reports

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the European Commission’s Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) are likely to speak later in the week as the Brexit talks get to a crunch point, the chief political commentator of Britain’s Times Radio said, writes Kate Holton.

Tom Newton Dunn said officials on both sides were setting up a phone call, or possibly even a face-to-face meeting, in what could be a pivotal moment for the free trade talks.

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EU's Barnier says 'fundamental divergences' persist in UK trade talks

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The European Union’s Brexit negotiator said on Monday that big differences persisted in trade talks with Britain but that both sides were pushing hard for a deal, writes Gabriela Baczynska.

“Time is short. Fundamental divergences still remain, but we are continuing to work hard for a deal,” said the EU negotiator, Michel Barnier (pictured). Trade negotiators resumed talks on the shape of the new EU-UK relationship after a post-Brexit standstill agreement expires on Dec. 31. As in the last few weeks, the focus was still squarely on dividing up fishing quotas and ensuring fair competition for companies, including on regulating state aid.

Face-to-face talks, suspended last week after a member of the EU delegation tested positive for the new coronavirus, will resume in London “when it is safe to do so”, said a source who follows Brexit, speaking on condition of anonymity. Another source, an EU official, added: “The differences on the level playing field and fisheries remain major.” The British The Sun newspaper reported at the weekend that the negotiators were looking at a clause that would allow a renegotiation of any new fishing arrangement in several years’ time.

An EU diplomat, a third source who spoke under condition of anonymity, confirmed that such an idea was under discussion, but added that the bloc insisted on linking it to the overall trade agreement, meaning that fishing rights could only be renegotiated together with the rest of trade rules. “We need to uphold the link between fishing and trade rules, this comes in a package,” the source said. The EU official said annual renegotiation of fishing quotas was a ‘no-go’ for the 27-nation bloc. Fisheries are a particularly sensitive issue for France.

Thierry Breton, the French representative on the European Commission, the EU executive, said last week: “We shouldn’t have in the Brexit deal revision clauses in one or two years, when everything would change again. We won’t let that happen. We need to give our entrepreneurs predictability.”

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Sunak says he hopes for a Brexit deal but not at any price

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British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak has said there is genuine progress in Brexit talks with the European Union, but that it would be better to walk away from a bad trade deal than tie Britain’s hands in the future, writes Kate Holton.

Sunak, one of the few members of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior ministerial team to have emerged from the COVID pandemic with an enhanced reputation, was thought to be one of the leading voices in the cabinet who wanted a free trade deal with the EU.

He told the Sunday Times that he hoped Britain and the European Union would secure an agreement.

“Every day I am reviewing bits of text, so there is genuine progress,” he said. “Certainly, it would be preferable to have a deal.”

But he added: “The major impact on our economy is the coronavirus. It’s absolutely not (a question of doing) a deal at any price.

“If we don’t get a deal, why is that? It is because they are refusing to compromise on what are some completely reasonable and very transparent principles that we’ve laid out from the beginning. We are not asking for super-special treatment.”

The two sides have been locked in talks for months and, while officials say they have made progress in the last few days, a substantial amount still needs to be done for an agreement to be in place and ratified by the year-end deadline.

Sunak gave the interview ahead of a spending review on Wednesday when he will set out the government’s spending over the next year, after COVID-19 blew a £200 billion ($266bn) hole in Britain’s finances.

He said he hoped that, by next spring, he would be able to start thinking beyond the current need to support the economy and jobs, and considering how he could return the public finances to a sustainable level.

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