The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator told member states’ envoys on Wednesday (2 December) that negotiations on a trade deal with Britain were reaching “a make-or-break moment”, and they urged him not to be rushed into an unsatisfactory agreement, write John Chalmers, Gabriela Baczynska.
Four diplomats told Reuters after a briefing by Michel Barnier that the talks remained snagged - as they have been for months - on fishing rights in British waters, ensuring fair competition guarantees and ways to solve future disputes.
“He said the coming days will be decisive,” said a senior EU diplomat who took part in the briefing, just over four weeks before the end-of-year deadline for a deal to avoid what could be an economically damaging divorce.
Speaking under condition of anonymity, the diplomat said Barnier did not specify a date by which an agreement must be clinched, but time will be needed for all 27 member states and the European Parliament to approve it before 31 December.
“Swift progress is of the essence,” David McAllister, who chairs a Brexit group in the European Parliament, said on Twitter. “An agreement needs to be reached within very few days if (the European) Council and Parliament are to complete their respective procedures before the end of the transition period.”
Britain formally left the EU on 31 January after 47 years of membership but then entered a transition period under which EU laws apply until the end of this year to give citizens and businesses time to adapt.
EU rules for the internal market and the EU Customs Union will not apply to Britain from Jan. 1.
Failure to secure a trade deal would snarl borders, spook financial markets and disrupt delicate supply chains that stretch across Europe and beyond, just as countries grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another senior EU diplomat said several member states would rather see negotiations continue past the end of the transition phase even if that means a brief “no deal” period.
“We need to continue negotiating as long as needed. We cannot sacrifice long-term interests because of short-term timetable issues,” the envoy said after Barnier’s briefing.
“There is a worry that because of this pressure of time there is a temptation to rush. We told him: don’t do that.”
The first diplomat said there was no discussion at the meeting of ambassadors of negotiating past 31 December.
A British government official said London would not agree to extending the transition period with the EU, and Britain has repeatedly ruled out any extension to the talks into next year. London blames the EU for the impasse at talks.
A third EU diplomat said it was still unclear whether negotiators could bridge the gaps on the three main sticking points but some member states were becoming “a bit jittery”.