UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s negotiating team are “confident” of striking a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU by the end of the year, it emerged.
They insist that Brussels wants to wrap an agreement up as soon as possible and that sticking points over issues like fishing will be ironed out. Talks between the UK and the European Commission continued last week online but ended with little progress and Brussels claiming that Britain was “playing for time”.
But sources close to the UK negotiating team stressed that relations are still good while admitting further progress needs to be made.
A crunch meeting in June could be a make or break moment for talks, they indicated.
They said that Michael Gove’s was right to say that the chances of reaching a deal with the bloc by December 31 are “definitely better than 2-1”.
“I agree with that and I am quietly confident,” a source close to the Taskforce Europe team said.
The transition period, which kept the UK aligned to the EU’s single market and customs union rules to allow trade to flow smoothly after Brexit, expires at the end of the year unless both sides agree to an extension – something Mr Johnson has ruled out.
However, some have questioned whether the Coronavirus will impact on negotiations.
“I don’t think the crisis makes any difference to be honest,” the source added.
“It is a big and horrible thing to affect us but I do sense that [European Union chief negotiator, Michel] Barnier himself would like to get a deal and I sensed that before the crisis started.”
The next round of talks is scheduled for May 11.
“We agree with Barnier that there is little time, there is the need to make progress,” the source added.
“What is clear to me is, if we were agreeing a standard Canada-style free trade agreement (FTA), we could do it quite quickly with quite a good understanding between the negotiators on the terms of an FTA.”
But he added that the EU is dragging its heels over fisheries.
“Of course there are negotiations to be had but people understand each other,” he added.
“But what is slowing us up is the EU’s insistence on extra provision, notably the level playing field area, aspects of governance and of course there is no meeting of minds on fisheries.
“If they continue to insist on their position on a so-called level playing field and on continuing the Common Fisheries Policy, for example, we are never going to accept that.
“Draw your own conclusion from that but I hope they will move on.”
They added: “There are some fundamentals that we are not going to change, we are not going to move on because, not so much that they are negotiation positions, as they are what an independent state does.”