Intense talks on a post-Brexit trade deal continue, EU chief says 'next days decisive'

WION Web Team
Brussels, Belgium Published: Dec 16, 2020, 02.35 PM(IST)

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen Photograph:( AFP )

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British and European negotiators have made little progress towards agreeing fair trade rules but are still far apart on access to fishing, she said as intense talks on a post-Brexit trade deal continued nearby in Brussels.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen gave her most optimistic assessment of negotiations yet on Wednesday morning, but added she could still not say for sure if there would be a deal.

British and European negotiators have made little progress towards agreeing fair trade rules but are still far apart on access to fishing, she said as intense talks on a post-Brexit trade deal continued nearby in Brussels.

"The good news is that we have found a way forward on most issues," she said, adding that she and EU negotiator Michel Barnier can now see a "narrow path to an agreement". 

"The next days are going to be decisive," the president of the European Commission told the European Parliament.

"But this is now a case of us being so close, and yet being so far away from each other, because two issues still remain outstanding, you know them: a level playing field and the fisheries."

Von der Leyen said that Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost had made progress towards resolving rules for state aid to businesses and that the ways the deal will be governed "by now are largely being resolved."

But she was pessimistic on fish. 

For months, the post-Brexit trade negotiations have stalled on the issues of fishing rights and the “level playing field” measures to prevent unfair competition. Britain is insisting that when it leaves the EU single market at the end of the year it will resume full control over access to its waters.

EU member states are holding out to preserve quotas for their crews fishing in UK waters and they want a long-term arrangement to provide stability.

Britain has so far only offered reduced access and annual quota renegotiations.

Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs there had been progress on the latter.

"On fisheries, the discussion is still very difficult," von der Leyen said. 

"We do not question the UK sovereignty on its own waters, but we asked for predictability and stability for our fishermen and our fisherwomen," she said.

"And in all honesty, I sometimes feel that we will not be able to resolve this question."

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