Britain and the European Union are running out of time to clinch a Brexit trade deal but if good progress is made this week then the talks could be extended, Environment Secretary George Eustice said on Monday.
With just over four weeks left until the United Kingdom finally exits the EU’s orbit on Dec. 31, both sides are demanding concessions from the other on fishing, state aid and how to resolve any future disputes.
“We really are now running out of time, this is the crucial week, we need to get a breakthrough,” Eustice told Sky.
“I really do think we are now in to the final week or 10 days, of course if great progress were made this week and you’re nearly there it’s always possible to extend those negotiations,” he said.
Britain formally left the EU on Jan. 31 but has been in a transition period since then under which rules on trade, travel and business remain unchanged. From the start of 2021 it will be treated by Brussels as a third country.
The two sides are trying to strike a trade deal on goods that would safeguard nearly $1 trillion in annual trade and buttress peace in British-ruled Northern Ireland.
Talks between EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and British chief negotiator David Frost continued on Sunday. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was a very significant week for Brexit.
“David Frost had made clear that we’re continuing the negotiations because we still think there is a prospect that we can get an agreement and while there is we should persevere with those,” Eustice said.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said a deal could be done this week, but there needed to be give and take on both sides.
On fishing, Britain dug in its heels.
While fishing alone contributed just 0.03% of British economic output in 2019, it is an emotive subject as many Brexit supporters see it as a symbol of the regained sovereignty that leaving the EU should bring. Combined with fish and shellfish processing, then the sector makes up 0.1% of UK GDP.
Britain wants “zonal attachment” to agree a total allowable catch for the United Kingdom’s waters - a step that would give it a much larger quota share than if the fish maths were worked out on the EU’s proposals.
“All we’re asking for ... is there to be annual negotiations based on the science and also for there to be a move towards a fairer, more scientific sharing methodology which is called zonal attachment which is broadly where the fish are to be found,” Eustice told BBC radio.
“Under that analysis we currently only have access to about half of the fish in our own waters, that is profoundly unfair on our fishermen, we’ve been clear throughout that needs to change.”