There is a good chance that the European Union and Britain could strike a Brexit trade deal within days, Ireland said on Thursday, as the two sides race to avoid a turbulent climax to the Brexit divorce in less than four weeks.
The United Kingdom leaves the EU’s orbit on Dec. 31, when a transition period of informal membership ends following its formal departure last January, and the sides are trying to secure a deal to govern nearly $1 trillion in annual trade.
“It’s the time to hold our nerve and trust [EU chief negotiator] Michel Barnier. And I believe if we do that, there’s a good chance that we can get a deal across the line in the next few days,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told Ireland’s Newstalk Radio.
“There will be no further extensions. There will be no extra time.”
The negotiators have been going back and forth for weeks over three main issues that remain unresolved: fisheries, economic fair play and settling disputes.
Failure to secure a deal would snarl borders, spook financial markets and disrupt delicate supply chains that stretch across Europe and beyond — just as the world grapples with the vast economic cost of the COVID-19 outbreak.
British Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said good progress was being made that but Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government will not sign up to a deal that is not in Britain’s interest.
“I’m confident from what I hear that progress, good progress is being made but we’re going to do a deal that is right for Britain, if such a deal is available,” Williamson told Sky. “If such a deal isn’t available then we’re not going to sign up to something that is to our detriment.”
Ireland’s Coveney said he believed Britain wanted a deal though its government did not always act as if it did, citing a planned British finance bill that would allow Britain to undercut parts of the 2020 Brexit divorce treaty.
“That’s hardly consistent with a government that’s looking to build a positive partnership and a future relationship with its close neighbor in the EU,” Coveney said.
An agreement means “finding a way to get a fair deal for both sides on fisheries, which has proven really, really difficult,” he said, adding that fair competition and governance were the two other main issues left.