Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has warned that the next 36 hours of trade talks with the UK will be crucial as he told ambassadors and members of the European parliament the two sides had not yet overcome their divisions.
Brussels and London need to assess by the end of this week whether there is a possibility to reach agreement in the future-relationship discussions, Mr Barnier said in separate closed-door meetings with parliamentarians and diplomats on Wednesday, according to people present.
He warned that key sticking points remained in the areas of “level playing field” conditions for business, EU fishing rights in UK waters and how any trade deal might be implemented.
Mr Barnier gave an indication in the meetings of how both sides were exploring possible compromises, even if breakthroughs had not been achieved, participants said.
According to one person, Mr Barnier said the two sides were exploring a transitional arrangement for fishing rights, with the idea that a renegotiation at the end of the period would be linked to the two sides’ overall economic agreement.
He said this would allow the EU and UK to have annual negotiations on fish but within a stable system that would protect the EU sector.
As issues stand, it was not possible to say if a deal would be there, Mr Barnier cautioned.
Member states have in recent days expressed concern about the risk that the EU might give too much away in the final days of the talks. One EU diplomat said national governments were “nervous” about the state of play.
“France will not accept an agreement that does not respect our long-term interests,” President Emmanuel Macron warned on Tuesday. “An agreement must allow a balanced future relationship.”
EU diplomats said Mr Barnier was given a clear message by governments on Wednesday to stick to the terms of the negotiating mandate that they gave him earlier this year.