The U.K. and European Union could strike a deal on their future trading and security relationship early next week as the two sides edge closer to agreement on the biggest sticking points. The pound rose.
As talks continue in Brussels, officials are planning for the possibility of a breakthrough to be announced as soon as Monday, although no precise day has been settled on, people familiar with the discussions said.
They also warned that there was still the potential for the negotiations to collapse, with the two sides still some way apart on the familiar stumbling blocks that have plagued the talks since they started in March. Getting a deal will still need the U.K. to make big political decisions over whether it is prepared to compromise, particularly on the thorny topic of access to British fishing waters, an EU official said.
“It is far from certain that an agreement will prove possible, and time is now very short,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told his Cabinet on Tuesday, according to a statement from his office. “The U.K. is keen to secure a deal with the EU, but not at the cost of our core principles around sovereignty and control over our laws, borders, money — and our fish.”
The bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has penciled in a meeting with the EU’s 27 national ambassadors on Friday to brief them on progress, the EU official said. Johnson may then hold another phone call with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, but that is yet to be confirmed, the official said.
The negotiating teams can now see “the landing zones” around an accord, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin told the Bloomberg New Economy Forum.
Failing to reach a deal would be “politically damaging all around,” Martin said. “Will the decision be made in London to go for it and say, let’s get a deal done? Some of us think that’s an issue that yet has to be determined.”
In addition to fisheries, the two sides are still at odds over the level playing field for business, including how the U.K.’s labor and environmental standards should evolve alongside those of the EU. There is also disagreement over how breaches of the overall deal should be penalized, with the U.K. resisting the bloc’s efforts to including fisheries in the over-arching enforcement mechanism.
“We continue to negotiate intensively with our U.K. partners and we aim, obviously, to find a deal when the conditions are there,” European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer told reporters in Brussels. “We’re not going to comment and give a blow-by-blow account of what negotiators are working toward.”
|The path to a deal|
|Monday Nov. 16||Talks resumed in Brussels|
|Thursday Nov. 19||EU leaders hold a video-conference call|
|Friday Nov. 20||Barnier set to brief EU diplomats on progress; Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen may hold a call thereafter — but this hasn’t been confirmed.|
|Monday Nov. 23||Talks resume in London; officials hope to make a breakthrough early in the week and reach an agreement.|
|Thursday Dec. 10-11||EU holds a summit. If a deal hasn’t been signed by now, expect preparations for Britain’s messy exit from the single market to figure prominently.|
|Wednesday Dec. 16||European Parliament scheduled to vote on any deal. But this could be delayed to between Christmas and the New Year.|
|Thursday Dec. 31||End of Brexit transition period. The final, immovable deadline. If the two sides haven’t signed a trade deal, Britain will default to trading with the EU on World Trade Organization terms.|
Both sides have used the pressure of time to try to get the other to cave in, but as the U.K.’s departure from the EU’s single market and customs union on Dec. 31 draws closer, real deadlines are starting to crystallize. As the talks have progressed, both camps have made attempts to predict when the other believes they can negotiate no longer.
While both sides need to ratify the agreement in their respective parliaments, the British government believes it has the upper hand because it can get approval more quickly than the bloc, possibly in a matter of days.
The European Parliament has indicated it needs about three weeks to scrutinize any agreement before it holds a vote on the deal, currently scheduled for Dec. 16. But there are emergency plans for that to be held after Christmas if necessary, the official said.
— With assistance by Peter Flanagan, Dana El Baltaji, and Alex Morales
(Updates with U.K. comment in fourth paragraph, EU comment in ninth)