UK and EU negotiators have resumed talks in Brussels in a “final throw of the dice” as they try to secure a post-Brexit trade deal. Their return to the negotiating table follows an hour-long call on Saturday between Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, in which they agreed on a final push to get an agreement. As he grilled Environment Secretary George Eustice on the latest developments, BBC One host Andrew Marr mocked the Prime Minister’s over his famous election pledge of an “over-ready Brexit deal”.
He said: “So much for the oven-ready deal. Has someone unplugged the oven?”
Mr Eustice attempted to defend the Prime Minister and his Government’s Brexit position as he argued the oven-ready deal was in fact the withdrawal agreement signed with Brussels at the end of the first phase of the negotiations.
The Tory MP said negotiations on a post-Brexit free trade deal are now entering the “final few days” which will determine whether there can be an agreement.
Mr Eustice, however, hinted there would be a further extension to finalise the details if the “fundamental divergences” which existed could be overcome.
“I think we probably are now in the final few days in terms of deciding whether there can be an agreement,” he told Marr.
“Of course if the ambience warms up again and actually great progress is made and it is just about sorting out the detail, then you can always find more time, you can always extend.
“But I think unless we can resolve these quite fundamental divergences at the moment then we are going to have to take a position in the next few days.”
He also acknowledged there will be “some impact” on food prices if the UK fails to get a trade deal with the EU.
“There will be some impact on prices but the analysis that has been done by some of the economic modellers is that it is quite modest – less than 2 percent as a result of tariffs,” he added.
“It would be higher on some things such as beef and pork but those make up a relatively small proportion of the overall family shop.”
In a joint statement following their call, Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen acknowledged “significant differences” remained on the key issues of fishing rights, competition rules and the governance arrangements for any deal.
“Both sides underlined that no agreement is feasible if these issues are not resolved,” they said.
“Whilst recognising the seriousness of these differences, we agreed that a further effort should be undertaken by our negotiating teams to assess whether they can be resolved.
“We are therefore instructing our chief negotiators to reconvene tomorrow in Brussels. We will speak again on Monday evening.”
The call took place after Mr Barnier and Lord Frost announced on Friday that they were putting the talks on “pause” after the latest round of negotiations failed to achieve breakthrough.
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Lord Frost has now arrived in Brussels with a small team of negotiators to attempt to work through the remaining issues.
While in the past much of the focus has been on the differences over fisheries, British sources indicated they would be looking particularly at the so-called “level playing field” rules on issues like state aid for business.
Theresa May’s former chief of staff Lord Gavin Barwell said he believes a deal on a post-Brexit trade agreement is “definitely still possible”, although it will rely on whether or not both sides are “prepared to make the compromises necessary”.
Lord Barwell told BBC Breakfast: “Both sides are going to have to compromise if we’re going to get a deal from this situation.”
Lord Barwell said: “We are now 25 days from the end of the transition period and business, both in the UK and in Europe, have no idea on what terms they’re going to be able to trade with their nearest market from January 1.
“That is a pretty shocking failure.”