Both UK and EU negotiators signalled progress had been made during a turbulent week of negotiations that were called off early after a coronavirus scare. Brussels sources indicated negotiators had managed to cobble together as much as 95 percent of the EU-UK free trade deal. And European Commission President Mrs von der Leyen praised a breakthrough with the two sides now getting down to work on the “substance” of the future relationship.
But Downing Street insisted it was down to the EU to budge in the row over future fishing rights and state aid in order to complete the pact.
A UK spokesman said: “Throughout this whole process we have listened carefully to our EU counterparts, signalled flexibility where possible to move the talks forward, and tabled new proposals to make progress.
“Although there has been some progress in recent days, there is much work to be done and time is now very short. We now need to see more realism from the EU on what it means for the UK to be an independent state.”
In a news conference today, Mrs von der Leyen said progress had been made during this week’s talks despite them being called off prematurely because of a coronavirus scare.
She said: “After difficult weeks with very, very slow progress now we have seen in the last days better progress, more movement on important files. This is good.
“Within the frame of the level playing field progress for example has been made on the question of state aid, but there are still quite some metres to the finish line so there’s still a lot of work to do.”
At a private briefing, European capitals were told there had even been movement on the controversial issue of future fishing rights in British waters.
But EU27 ambassadors were warned the progress was still “too slow” to conclude an agreement before the end of the year.
One diplomat said: “There is tangible progress on a number of areas while gaps are only slowly shrinking on core issues like level playing field, governance and fisheries.
There is Growing concern that the negotiation process does not proceed quickly enough to ensure the ratification of a possible agreement until the end of the year deadline.
“Hope is nevertheless that negotiations can be finalised quickly if and once the necessary political decisions are taken in London.”
EU officials are now working on emergency plans to fully approve any Brexit trade deal amid concerns negotiations could be extended into December.
A number of EU states expressed concern there will not be enough time to scrutinise the 600-page document being drawn up.
One insider said: “The negotiations are now running very late. We’re not there yet to enter into the final phase and the talks will run into December.”
French President Emmanuel Macron was said to be threatening to block the Brexit trade deal if his officials were not able to review the legal text in their native language.
“France is concerned about its own language version, which is key for Paris to approve the deal,” according to a diplomatic note, seen by the Daily Express.
Chief negotiators Lord Frost and Michel Barnier are expected to continue working through the weekend in the hope of finding a breakthrough.
Talks will be held online until it is deemed safe to return to face-to-face discussions after a member of the EU’s negotiating team tested positive for coronavirus.