Britain and the European Union have still not clinched a Brexit trade deal as serious issues remain unresolved that prevent Prime Minister Boris Johnson signing up to an accord, a British minister says.
Just eight days before the United Kingdom casts off into the unknown by exiting the EU’s orbit, no trade deal has yet been sealed though an array of conflicting signals indicate, variously, that a deal is imminent or that talks have far to go.
The trade negotiations have broken every deadline that has yet been set, though both sides say they must either reach a deal or part without one by the end of the United Kingdom’s informal EU membership on December 31.
The EU is making a “final push” to strike a trade deal with Britain, although there are still deep rifts over fishing rights, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Tuesday before meeting EU ambassadors in Brussels.
“I’m still reasonably optimistic but there’s no news to report to you this morning,” British Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News amid speculation in London that a deal could be announced on Wednesday.
“There’s still the same serious areas of disagreement,” he said.
“But at the moment there isn’t sufficient progress. It isn’t a deal that the prime minister feels he can sign us up to.”
Barnier told the closed-door gathering that the UK’s latest offer on sharing out the fish catch from British waters from 2021 was “totally unacceptable”, according to EU diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Ultimately, Britain’s Johnson – who is grappling with a deepening COVID-19 outbreak and a border crisis at Europe’s busiest truck port – will have to decide if the narrow deal on offer is worth signing up to.
Walking away might elicit applause from many Brexiteers but would trigger severe trade disruption.
An accord would ensure that the goods trade which makes up half of annual EU-UK commerce, worth nearly a trillion dollars in all, would remain free of tariffs and quotas.