Leaders and negotiators from the European Union and the United Kingdom have intensified their battle to get a trade deal over the New Year’s Day finish line.
Nine months of talks have dwindled to just a few days to find a compromise on how to continue trading with as few obstructions and tariffs as possible, after Britain left the EU on January 31.
A transition period runs out at the end of the year.
“We are really in a crucial moment and we are giving it a final push,” EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said.
“In 10 days, the UK will leave the single market.”
Over the past few days, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have been drawn more and more into the talks, seeking to unblock negotiations on the last major stumbling block – EU fishing rights in UK waters.
The rights have been shared among all EU nations in recent years, but with the Brexit departure the United Kingdom regains control over some of its waters.
If Britain insists on keeping the fishing rights for itself it could see itself punished with tough seafood export tariffs and other measures.
Officials said the EU could live with a cut of up to 25 per cent in quotas while Britain wants it to be significantly more.
The sides are also bickering over a transition period, which Johnson wants to limit to three years while the EU is pushing for seven.
On Monday, Johnson insisted it did not really matter whether or not an agreement is reached, saying Britain would “prosper mightily” even if the talks collapsed.
The stalemate has left the overall talks inconclusive, with businesses on both sides clamouring for a deal.
A failure to reach a post-Brexit arrangement is likely to lead to more chaos on Britain’s borders with the EU at the start of 2021, when new tariffs would add to other impediments to trade enacted by both sides.