LONDON – German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said there is nothing she can do to announce Friday as the EU-Britain talks week comes to an end, but she is still hopeful that signing a post-Brexit trade agreement is possible before the end of the year.
His remarks were echoed by Britain’s chief negotiator, David Frost, who said that although progress had been made in some areas, the main difference between the two sides remained, and the fishermen’s gap was “unfortunately too great”.
Both British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the EU set a goal by mid-October to reach a trade agreement, but EU EU Brexit chief coordinator Michel Barnier has suggested that talks continue until the end of the month.
There are still major obstacles to securing a smooth relationship after December 31, when the end of Brexit suspension only, and turbulent divisions without a new agreement could jeopardize the estimated annual trillion euros trade.
Barnier noted the new advances in aviation safety and the protection of fundamental rights but said it did not protect personal information or the price of carbon.
“Major divisions” continued, he said, citing the need for a level playing field in fair competition, including state assistance, “strong” dispute resolution mechanisms, including “effective solutions”, and a fishery agreement.
“I can’t announce the explosion,” Merkel said at a previous press conference after two days of talks between 27 EU world leaders in Brussels.
Frost from Britain also called on the EU to “show more certainty and flexibility” in order to reach an agreement, noting that some of the most serious problems “were important to our future as an independent state”.
“I am concerned that there is very little time now to resolve these issues before the Council of Europe on 15 October.”
Johnson will speak to EU chief executive Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday to agree on the next steps after the union instituted a British lawsuit against the breach of their Brexit divorce agreement.
Speaking after the conference on Friday, von der Leyen said it was time to “strengthen” the Brexit talks and the time available at the end of the year for a new deal to expire.
“Where there is a will, there is a way,” he said.
“We have made progress in many areas, very difficult but all the major ones are always very open,” he added, pointing out guarantees at the level of fair competition as a key adherence point. “There is still a lot of work to be done.”
The issue of Northern Ireland has come to the fore again, after Britain introduced its Internal Markets Bill, with London acknowledging that it would violate international law.
The Prime Minister of Ireland, Michael Martin, has told the EU summit that Britain must honor the arrangements for the sensitive Irish border that it had agreed to under its first divorce agreement with the blockchain after a troubled week.
Referring to another major point of adherence to trade negotiations, Merkel also said the new UK agreement on fishing with Norway announced this week “shows … agreements can be reached”.
This agreement includes access to each other’s water, as well as annual fisheries negotiations. These areas have long been popular with Britain but have since been rejected by the EU, where fishing is politically neutral in France.
An EU diplomatic source said Merkel’s comments suggested that positions could be drawn closer after the parties discussed an agreement that would include a “exit” or “conversion” approach to fish stocks.
Under this vision, Britain will increase its ratings over time, rather than rise sharply from January 1, 2021, when it claims to be a “coastal independent nation” that controls its waters.
But Frost described the fishing gap as “unfortunately too large and, without realization and flexibility from the EU, there is a risk that it will not be easy to close”.
The EU says the agreement should be closer by November for confirmation by the end of the year. The bloc remains, however, that it will not apply to any new UK deal if London takes a divorce agreement.