British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) received European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (right) at the Berlaymont Building at the European Union headquarters in Brussels on December 9, 2020.
Olivier Hussleit | Agence France-Presse | Getty Images
LONDON – A few days before the end-of-year deadline, Britain and the European Union may be close to signing a long-awaited post-Brexit trade deal.
Michel Barnier, chief Brexit negotiator for the European Union, said on Tuesday that the bloc was making a “final push” to reach a trade deal with Britain before December 31.
“We are really at a critical moment,” Barnier told reporters, on his way to brief the 27 ambassadors. “We give it one final push. In 10 days, the UK will leave … the single market.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have embarked on a series of “hotline” talks, the Financial Times reported Wednesday, to try to agree a deal before the end of the day.
However, disputes remain over hunting rights and many other issues.
The European Union wants to maintain access for its fishing fleets to UK waters, while the UK wants to significantly limit these fishing rights. The scenario of failure to reach an agreement could see the European Union ending its access to UK waters suddenly, and vice versa, and the UK has already threatened to deploy gunboats to protect British waters.
There are concerns that some fishing fleets might ignore any restrictions, leading to potential clashes. This has never been heard of before. Physical skirmishes called “scallop wars” have occurred between British and French fishing fleets in recent years amid disputes over hunting.
British Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News on Wednesday that “serious areas of contention” remain, over fisheries and creating a “level playing field” for companies.
“I am still reasonably optimistic, but there is no news to report to you this morning,” he said. “At the moment there is not enough progress. It is not a deal that the prime minister feels he can sign. “
However, there have been positive reports of Brexit talks in the past 24 hours, with ITV political editor Robert Piston claiming on Tuesday that a deal could be reached on Wednesday.
The pound rose about 0.5% against the dollar to $ 1.34 as traders bet on signing a deal.
If Britain and the European Union fail to agree to a deal by Dec. 31, the two sides can impose border taxes and import taxes on each other’s goods, as the trade will return to WTO terms. This may lead to price changes in supermarkets and stores.
Britain officially left the European Union on January 31, 2020, but the leaders were given 11 months to agree on the rules that will dictate life in the UK and Europe after Brexit.
CNBC’s Holly Ellyat contributed to this article.