Talks to unblock a post-Brexit EU-UK trade deal continued late Saturday night in Brussels and are set to resume on Sunday, as a deadline to assess the state of negotiations looms.
Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister, and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, will speak on Sunday to assess whether negotiations are continuing.
Although both sides appeared increasingly pessimistic about the prospects of a deal before the end of UK Brexit transition period January 1, the discussions were reduced to one main open question.
Saturday’s negotiations focused on trying to meet the EU’s demands for a mechanism that would make tariff-free trade dependent on both sides maintaining a level playing field.
Britain has rejected different models for the instrument, known in negotiations as the ‘evolution mechanism’ or ‘equivalence mechanism’, which aims to deter the UK from undercutting the EU if the bloc decides to raise its standards in areas such as environmental rules. or workers’ rights.
Mr Johnson argued that the mechanism was tantamount to keeping the UK committed to EU rules – something EU leaders, including Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, denied on Friday.
An EU diplomat said Brussels had proposed that the mechanism be administered by a joint committee of EU-UK officials, with arbitration in the event of a dispute, but that this still went too far for the UK government.
Negotiators also continued their work on EU fishing rights in UK waters.
An EU official said prospects for a deal were on the verge of a ‘knife’, while diplomats in Brussels questioned whether Mr Johnson was really interested in a deal given the political risks the two parties would have to run to find the necessary compromises.
A UK government official said on Saturday evening: “Talks are continuing overnight, but as it stands, the offer on the EU table remains unacceptable.
“The Prime Minister is sparing no effort in this process, but it is absolutely clear: any deal must be fair and respect the fundamental position that the UK will be a sovereign nation in three weeks.
British officials said the situation remained “very difficult” as high-profile figures in London privately ranted what Mr Johnson sees as the EU’s unreasonable demands.
Michael Howard, former Tory leader, and Kim Darroch, former UK Ambassador to the EU, told the BBC Week in Westminster that Mr. Johnson’s threat – now withdrawn – breaking last year’s EU withdrawal treaty with respect to Northern Ireland had contributed to a lack of trust between the two sides.