Downing Street say Brexit trade talks are at ‘very difficult point’ as knife-edge discussions set to stretch into weekend

Anthony France
·3 min read
<p>Boris Johnson is in a race against time to strike a post-Brexit trade deal</p> (REUTERS)

Boris Johnson is in a race against time to strike a post-Brexit trade deal


Downing Street has said the Brexit trade talks are at a "very difficult point" and warned that time is ticking if a deal is to be struck.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister told reporters on Friday afternoon: "Time is in very short supply and we are at a very difficult point in the talks."

Negotiations dragged on until 11pm on Thursday, Number 10 confirmed, as both sides look to hammer out a deal.

Both No 10 and the European Commission declined to confirm whether talks are likely to continue into the weekend after reports surfaced that the European Union's chief negotiator Michel Barnier would remain in London, having initially planned to travel back to Brussels on Friday.

However Irish premier Micheal Martin later said that was likely, as both sides hope to make progress on the sticking points of the negotiations.

"I fervently hope there will be a deal," Mr Martin said. “I think a deal is in the best interests of the United Kingdom, it's in the best interests of the island of Ireland, it's in the best interests of the EU."

Despite optimism in the week that the prospect of a deal was on the horizon, progress appeared to stall on Thursday, with a senior UK Government source claiming Brussels was calling for fresh concessions at the 11th hour and that the prospect of an agreement was "receding".

Speaking on Friday, a spokesman for Boris Johnson said: "We are committed to working hard to try and reach an agreement with the EU and the talks are ongoing.

"There are still some issues to overcome. Time is in very short supply and we are at a very difficult point in the talks.

<p>Brexit talks: Michel Barnier is in London for the last-ditch negotiations</p>REUTERS

Brexit talks: Michel Barnier is in London for the last-ditch negotiations


"What is certain is we will not be able to agree a deal that doesn't respect our fundamental principles on sovereignty, fishing and control.

"Our negotiating team is working extremely hard in order to bridge the gaps that remain."

Mr Barnier and Lord Frost, the UK's lead negotiator, are both personally involved in Friday's discussions, Downing Street said.

The comments come after Business Secretary Alok Sharma told broadcasters there were "a number of tricky issues" still outstanding.

Fishing and the so-called "level playing field" aimed at preventing unfair competition on state subsidies and standards remain the main issues to be resolved in the talks.

And with the Brexit transition period due to end on December 31, there is little time left to get a deal agreed by negotiators and approved by the EU's leaders, Westminster and the European Parliament.

European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer, asked for an update on fishing rights, told reporters in Brussels: "Today is still a day for negotiations, they are ongoing, so we can't make any comments on the contents of what is being discussed."

In an indication of the intensity of the discussions, Mr Barnier opted to postpone a meeting with delegates from the EU's 27 member states in order to focus on the negotiations.

Sebastian Fischer, a spokesman for the group, tweeted: "There will be no #COREPER on EU-UK talks today due to the ongoing intensive negotiations in London. Keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned!"

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