EU negotiator kicks off hectic day for final Brexit deal

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union (EU) Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier yesterday set off one of the most intense days in the long-running Brexit trade negotiations with a pre-dawn debriefing of the 27 member states to see if a deal is still possible with London ahead of the January 1 deadline.

In the evening, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had his second phone call with EU Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen in barely 48 hours, to decide whether to pull the plug on an agreement that could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs on both sides and disrupt cross-Channel trade for years to come.

Both sides acknowledge that “significant differences remain” on three essential points, although there are indications that the disagreements over EU fishing rights in United Kingdom (UK) waters after Britain’s departure from the bloc becomes a full reality on December 31 have narrowed over the past few days.

There remain major issues with legal oversight of any trade deal and standards of fair play that the UK needs to meet to be able to export in the EU.

While the UK left the EU on January 31, it remains within the bloc’s tariff-free single market and customs union through December 31. Reaching a trade deal by then would ensure there are no tariffs and trade quotas on goods exported or imported by the two sides, although there would still be technical costs, partly associated with customs checks and non-tariff barriers on services.

European Union Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier. PHOTO: AP