A Brexit trade deal is “imminent” and expected this weekend barring a last-minute breakdown in talks, an EU official has said, despite both sides appearing to harden their stance after a difficult day of negotiations in London following months of deadlock.
As wary France threatened to veto a bad deal, European Council president Charles Michel said the UK had “choices to make” over the final stalling points, while British ministers again insisted the EU must recognise UK’s sovereignty. EU sources dismissed UK claims that the bloc was “bringing new elements to the table at the eleventh hour” as mere “theatrics”, insisting that the same sticking points seen since February remain – those of fishing rights, state aid and governance.
And with just days left to secure a deal and tensions already high in Brussels, Boris Johnson’s government announced it will bring two bills in possible violation of the Brexit withdrawal agreement before the Commons next week, which it claims is necessary to prevent a border in the Irish Sea. Michel Barnier has reportedly told EU envoys such a breach of trust would plunge the talks into irreparable “crisis”.
Barnier ‘will not return to Brussels’ today
In what may be viewed as a sign of healthier negotiations, Sky’s Europe correspondent reports that Michel Barnier will no longer be returning to Brussels today.
The EU’s chief negotiator is due to update the EU27 on the state of play this evening, with his last such correspondence on Thursday morning having fuelled reports of fears of a bad deal across the bloc, and a warning that UK breaches of the withdrawal agreement would plunge any deal into “crisis”.
Andy Gregory4 December 2020 10:33
Deal now ‘imminent’ barring last-minute hurdles, EU official says
A deal is now expected before the end of the weekend, barring any last-minute break down in talks, according to an EU official close to talks who spoke to the Reuters news agency.
Refresh our breaking story below for updates:
Andy Gregory4 December 2020 10:11
‘We want a deal but not at any price,’ EU Council president
Charles Michel has warned that EU nations will not accept a deal “at any price”, and appeared to suggest it was up to the UK government to make concessions.
“The real question is – which political, economic, social project do they want for their own future?” the European Council president told a news conference this morning. “And this is a question for the British government and for the British people.”
“We want a deal but not at any price,” Mr Michel said. “For the European Union … the ‘level playing field’ is key.”
“If one side of the table rejects [a tentative agreement], it’s a no-deal,” he said, adding that the EU has clear standards, and that the UK has choices to make. “We will need to assess what will be probably on the table.”
Andy Gregory4 December 2020 09:50
‘We have to expect damages on both sides,’ French MP says
“I think we have to expect damages on both sides” of the Channel, French MP Bruno Bonell has said, as he warned a no-deal outcome would be the wrong route for both the UK and EU.
“On one side, we will have the UK trying to struggle in a world where continents now are the right size to compete against the US economy or the Chinese economy,” he told Sky News.
“And the EU will probably be damaged by missing the quality and services and ability of the UK to really develop good commerce and business. So unfortunately, we’ve reached this point that I’ve been warning for for the last two years, [where] we have to find a deal and a Brexit with a no-deal … is probably not the right solution for anybody in Europe, including the UK.”
Andy Gregory4 December 2020 09:22
Rishi Sunak imposes austerity on railway infrastructure investment with £1bn cuts
In other news, the government has quietly cut £1bn from the rail infrastructure investment budget, effectively cancelling improvement schemes across the country.
The austerity comes after Rishi Sunak promised “record” infrastructure investment, and casts doubt on Tory claims to be “levelling up”.
The rail industry warned that the austerity meant it was now “unclear what schemes will be going ahead and what will not be”.
Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has the details:
Andy Gregory4 December 2020 09:12
Brexit talks in ‘difficult phase’, business secretary says
Alok Sharma has said Brexit talks are in a “difficult” phase with “a number of tricky issues” still outstanding.
“We are committed to reaching an agreement with the EU on this particular discussion that we are having,” the business secretary told BBC Breakfast.
“But, of course, time is short and we are in a difficult phase. There’s no denying that. There are a number of tricky issues that still have to be resolved.
“The fundamental point – I want to make this really very, very clear to your viewers – is that we have said all along, right from the start of these negotiations, and I’ve come on your programme, other programmes, as have other ministers over the past months, and said that we want the EU to recognise that the UK is a sovereign and independent nation.
“It is on the basis of that that a deal will be done.
“It is tricky, but we are working hard. David Frost and his team are working incredibly hard on this, in good faith, so let’s see where we get to.”
Andy Gregory4 December 2020 09:02
Showdown between Johnson and Macron?
Here’s my colleague Adam Forrest’s round-up of this morning’s Brexit news, deliverable to your inbox in his daily Inside Politics newsletter:
One UK government official said the prospect of a breakthrough is “receding”, claiming Brussels had hardened its stance on level-playing issues. Reports suggest the talks have also stalled on fishing rights.
No 10 has suggested the French president has insisted on firm red lines – with Emmanuel Macron’s officials said to be “agitating around EU capitals”. Downing Street sources told The Telegraph they remain unsure whether Macron might “torpedo” any deal at the last moment.
What happens next? Boris Johnson is expected to call European Commission boss Ursula von der Leyen later today, while this weekend has been billed as a “showdown” between Johnson and Macron.
Andy Gregory4 December 2020 08:53
What are the remaining issues blocking a Brexit deal?
Talks have remaining stalled on three key areas for months.
Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has this explainer on the issues threatening to prevent a deal and, if OBR forecasts are correct, quickly wipe off 2 per cent of UK GDP.
Andy Gregory4 December 2020 08:45
France will veto a bad deal, minister warns
With France said to be leading the charge of EU nations urging Michel Barnier not to feel pressured into accepting a bad deal as the clock runs down, the country’s European Affairs minister has warned France will veto a bad deal.
“I want to tell our fishermen, our producers, the citizens who are listening that we will not acept a deal with bad terms,” Clement Beaune told Europe 1 radio.
“If a good agreement cannot be reached, we will oppose it. Each country has a veto right, so it is possible … We will do our own evaluation of this draft deal, if there is one.”
Andy Gregory4 December 2020 08:36
UK accused of ‘theatrics’ after claims deal ‘receding’
Amid reports that talks went “backwards” yesterday, a senior UK government source was widely quoted as saying: “At the 11th hour, the EU is bringing new elements into the negotiation.
“A breakthrough is still possible in the next few days but that prospect is receding.”
But the BBC reported EU sources as dismissing this as last-minute theatrics, insisting that the key issues remain unchanged.
However, with some EU member states having voiced their growing concern of a bad deal during an EU27 discussion with Mr Barnier on Thursday morning, it is possible the bloc’s negotiating team has somewhat hardened its stance.
Andy Gregory4 December 2020 08:29