Brexit Time Runs Short as Both Sides See Crucial Week Ahead

Officials from both sides of the Brexit divide may still be far apart on key issues, but they seem united on one thing -- the coming week is crucial.

Negotiations over a trade agreement have already passed a number of informal deadlines, but the two sides remain locked in talks.

On Sunday, Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost said on Twitter that he was back in Brussels for more discussions with his European Union counterpart Michel Barnier. There has been “some progress in a positive direction in recent days,” he said, while cautioning that “we may not succeed.”

With Britain’s Dec. 31 exit fast approaching, both the U.K. and the bloc “recognize that time is very short,” Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday.

“This needs to be a week when things move, when we break through some of these difficult issues, and get a resolution, and at least have some sort of headlines of an agreement,” he said. “Otherwise it gets quite difficult and we do start to run out of time to implement it.”

Still, he noted “you can always squeeze out extra time if you need to if you are nearly there.”

The issues of state aid and fishing remain as sticking point, Eustice said. While both sides can see what a final agreement would look like, Brussels officials insist that reaching one will require the U.K. prime minister to move first, a stance their British counterparts reject.

Speaking on the same program, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said negotiators were running out on time, and “this is move week.”

The two sides have “got to make big progress this week,” he said.

Even so, a deal may not be ratified if the British government reintroduces parts of the internal market bill struck out by the House of Lords, he said.

Peers voted last week to remove the most controversial parts of that bill, which gives ministers the power to unilaterally rewrite parts of the Withdrawal Agreement that Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed with the European Union.

The departure of top Johnson aide Dominic Cummings will have no impact on negotiations, Eustice said. Frost also tweeted that he “will not be changing” his position in the coming negotiations.

The government will overrule Lords to put back those powers, which in any case would be rendered void by a trade agreement, according to Eustice.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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