Michel Barnier says there are just ‘a few hours’ to get a Brexit breakthrough and the path is ‘very narrow’ as UK warns EU’s demanding on fishing rights are ‘unreasonable’
- Michel Barnier has updated MEPs on the state of play in the Brexit negotiations
- Mr Barnier said there are ‘just a few hours’ left to strike an agreement with UK
- Row over fishing access to UK waters thought to be biggest remaining obstacle
The bloc’s chief negotiator told the European Parliament that the talks had reached the ‘moment of truth’ after nearly a year of desperate wrangling – and with less than a fortnight to ratify any agreement struck.
But he warned that the path to a settlement was ‘very narrow’, with Downing Street insisting no deal is still the most likely outcome despite some progress.
Fishing increasingly appears to be the biggest remaining obstacle, with Boris Johnson insisting that the UK must regain control of its waters.
He is said to have joked to No10 officials that the Britons will be ‘eating fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner’ after the transition period ends on December 31.
Michel Barnier told the European Parliament that the talks had reached the ‘moment of truth’ after nearly a year of desperate wrangling – and with less than a fortnight to ratify any agreement struck.
Boris Johnson (pictured speaking to Ursula von der Leyen last night) is said to have joked to No10 officials that the Britons will be ‘eating fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner’ after the transition period ends on December 31
EU commission president Ms von der Leyen (pictured this week) is expected to speak to Mr Johnson again over the next 48 hours
Speaking to MEPs in Brussels, Mr Barnier said he was heading straight back from the session for a ‘last attempt’ to break the impasse with the UK’s Lord Frost.
‘It’s the moment of truth. We have very little time remaining, just a few hours to work through these negotiations in a useful fashion if we want this agreement to enter into force on the first of January,’ he said.
‘There is a chance of getting an agreement but the path to such an agreement is very narrow.’
UK government sources have indicated that today will be a ‘crunch moment’ as the EU pushes to get a deal agreed so a legal text can be finalised by a new deadline of Sunday.
Lord Frost said: ‘The situation in our talks with the EU is very serious tonight. Progress seems blocked and time is running out.’
In a call last night, the Prime Minister warned European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen he believed negotiations were ‘now in a serious situation’.
‘Time is very short and it now looks very likely agreement will not be reached unless the EU position changes substantially,’ he said.
Downing Street said Mr Johnson had ‘stressed that the UK could not accept a situation where it was the only sovereign country in the world not able to control access to its own waters for an extended period and to be faced with fisheries quotas which hugely disadvantaged its own industry’.
It is understood Brussels is pushing for an eight-year transition period that would mean the UK would not regain total control of its valuable fishing grounds until 2029. British negotiators had previously offered a three-year period.
No10 said Mr Johnson told Mrs von der Leyen ‘the EU’s position in this area was simply not reasonable and if there was to be an agreement it needed to shift significantly’.
Mr Barnier said today: ‘We’re not asking more nor less than a balance between rights and obligations and reciprocity, access to our markets and access to our waters and the other way round, no more, no less.
‘It’s also obvious that this isn’t an agreement we will sign at any price or any cost.
‘I think I’ve always been frank with you and open and sincere. I cannot say what will come during this last home straight of negotiations. We have to be prepared for all eventualities.’
Lord Frost (pictured yesterday) has been locked in talks in Brussels this week as efforts to break the deadlock reach a critical moment
In her statement last night, Mrs von der Leyen said there had been ‘substantial progress on many issues’ but that ‘big differences remain to be bridged, in particular on fisheries’.
The issue of what should happen if the two sides want to vary their standards on labour, environment and state subsidies in the future – known as the ‘level playing field’ – is understood to be close to being finalised.
However, British negotiators are still pushing back against a demand from Brussels that the European Commission should be exempted from the arrangements on subsidies.