Brexit Negotiators Drawing Close to U.K.-EU Trade Agreement
Michel Barnier, European Union chief negotiator, right, exits the European Commission’s Berlaymont building in Brussels. (Photographer: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Bloomberg)

Brexit Negotiators Drawing Close to U.K.-EU Trade Agreement

Negotiators are drawing closer to a historic post-Brexit trade deal between the U.K. and European Union, with officials increasingly hopeful an accord could be struck as soon as Wednesday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen intervened personally in recent days, holding several phone conversations in a last-ditch bid to reach an agreement before the U.K. leaves the single market at the end of the month.

Brexit Negotiators Drawing Close to U.K.-EU Trade Agreement

Negotiations resumed early on Wednesday in the Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters in Brussels, with discussions focused on two key disagreements over fish: what access EU boats will have to British waters, and what rights the EU will have to impose retaliatory tariffs should the U.K. limit that access in the future.

Both sides have made an agreement on fishing a precondition for any wider deal over their future relationship, even if the 650 million euros ($790 million) of fish EU boats catch in U.K. waters each year is a fraction of the 512 billion euros of goods traded between Britain and the bloc each year.

Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief negotiator, told a meeting of ambassadors from the bloc’s 27 member states Tuesday that there has been progress in the talks, and a deal could be signed before Christmas -- if the British are prepared to compromise further on fishing, according to diplomats briefed on the discussions. The talks could continue beyond Christmas, or fail completely.

Senior EU officials said the decision lies with Johnson, while people familiar with the British side said the onus was on the bloc to move.

Diplomats in the EU’s working group have discussed how a potential agreement could be put into effect by Jan. 1 in the absence of sufficient time for formal ratification by the EU Parliament. While such procedural preparations aren’t in themselves proof a deal has been reached, they signal that the bloc is preparing for one.

If an agreement is struck, the Commission will publish the draft unofficial text and send it to member states and the European Parliament, according to a diplomat briefed on the preparations. EU government envoys in Brussels will have two days to discuss and approve the draft, according to the plan. Then a written procedure for the signing of the free trade agreement will follow, so that it can be published in the official journal of the European Union by Dec. 31.

The pound rose for the first time in four days, climbing above $1.34.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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