DUBLIN/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – An EU-UK trade pact is unlikely to come together this week and negotiations might go into the next, an Irish minister said on Wednesday, confirming a Reuters report that the sides were now set to miss their mid-November deadline for a new Brexit deal.
Britain left the bloc in January. A status quo transition period expires at the end of the year, and talks on trade rules that would apply from the start of 2021 have yet to yield a breakthrough.
“I think it’s unlikely this week,” said Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney. “I think it is likely to move into next week. At that point, the timelines start to get very tight – there are only 50 days left this year.”
“If we don’t have a deal at some point next week, I think we have real problems,” he told an online discussion.
EU and UK sources told Reuters earlier on Wednesday that negotiations were expected to run through the end of this week.
Ambassadors of the 27 EU member states in Brussels will not be updated on the talks at a regular meeting on Wednesday and the issue is now tentatively pencilled in for their meeting on Nov. 18, a senior EU diplomat said.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK team continues “to work very hard to seek to bridge the gaps which remain between out two positions”. He declined to comment on any new deadline.
With stakes running high, an EU diplomat said: “The deadlines are increasingly tight. But the EU cannot make the timetable take precedence over its priority interests.”
“We must continue negotiating as long as needed and, at the same time, prepare for all scenarios.”
Should they fail to agree, trade rifts expected between the world’s largest trading bloc of 450 million consumers and the sixth biggest economy would deepen economic damage wrought by the coronavirus pandemic in Europe this year.
A rough split in trading ties would also put pressure on the sensitive border between EU member state Ireland and the UK’s province of Northern Ireland, the only land frontier between Britain and the bloc following Brexit.
The pound wobbled on news that talks might go beyond the mid-month deadline and ended the day flat against the euro and down against a stronger dollar as optimism over COVID-19 vaccine was tempered by a lack of progress on Brexit.
TIME RUNNING OUT
In a sign that the estranged allies are still pushing for an agreement, however, EU sources expected negotiators to come up with a text in the middle of next week, unless talks collapse or there is a breakthrough earlier.
“It is quite possible that this could fall apart and we don’t get a deal,” Coveney said. “But if you are asking me to call it, I think we are more likely to get a deal than not.”
Any agreement must still be approved by the 27 national EU leaders, next due to come together on Nov. 19 in a video call.
The European Parliament, which must ratify a deal, has said time is running out. Its latest agenda envisages ratification on Dec. 16 if lawmakers receive a treaty by Nov. 16.
“The real cut-off point is late next week,” said another EU diplomat who follows Brexit in EU hub Brussels.
A British source also said the negotiating teams’ talks in London were expected to last through the end of this week.
Fishing quotas, fair competition for companies in areas such as state aid, and how to settle future disputes are the main sticking points that have so far barred an agreement.
The EU also insists it would not implement any new partnership if Johnson pushes ahead with plans to undercut a divorce deal reached with the bloc last year.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper in London, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Philippa Fletcher, Peter Graff and Grant McCool)