Brexit talks stretch into next week, with EU and UK still divided

A pro-EU demonstrator protesting outside Parliament during Brexit talks in London, on Nov 11, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Negotiations to secure an EU-UK trade deal will stretch to next week, officials said on Thursday (Nov 12), with an EU leaders summit on Nov 19 perhaps the last chance to strike an accord.

"We are working hard for a deal. Talks will continue in London over the weekend and will take place in Brussels next week," EU spokesman Daniel Ferrie told AFP.

Negotiations between London and Brussels have been snagged on the same issues for months, mainly fisheries and ensuring the "level playing field" to maintain fair competition between UK and EU firms.

An EU diplomat closely following the talks said that despite their intensity, "nothing has changed" and that the UK had even backtracked on earlier compromise positions.

"The deal will have to be done in Brussels next week, otherwise there is no deal," the diplomat warned, circling an EU video summit next Thursday as the deadline.

Time is short since both the EU and UK parliaments must ratify the pact by Jan 1, when a post-Brexit transition period comes to a close.

Any deal would have to go through detailed legal drafting in time for a vote of European Parliament on Dec 16, although this date could theoretically be delayed.

"There needs to be something... or there will be nothing at all," the diplomat insisted, but a European source said that "as of yet", Brexit was not even on the summit agenda.

As talks pressed on in London, senior UK minister Michael Gove told the British Parliament that "progress is being made, but divergences remain".

On Saturday, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said that whilst an agreement is likely, "it is quite possible that this could fall apart and we don't get a deal".

"If we can't get a deal done it will represent an extraordinary failure of politics and diplomacy," he added.

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