After a period of deep uncertainty and instability UK-European (EU) post-Brexit trade talks appear to be on a more stable footing following reports that the EU’s chief negotiator has extended his stay in London.
Michel Barnier, who arrived in the UK last Thursday (October 22) and was expected to leave today (October 25) has instead opted to stay until Wednesday (October 28) in order to progress talks.
According to multiple reports, after Wednesday (October 28), the focus of the talks will shift to Brussels where both sides hope to achieve a breakthrough.
In sharp contrast to previous weeks, leading British ministers now strike an optimistic note about the talks.
The Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, has described the extended talks as a “very good sign” that a deal can be struck in time.
Talking to the BBC Andrew Marr Show (October 25), Lewis said: “We have got to make sure it is a deal that works, not just for our partners in Europe ... but one that works for the United Kingdom".
Describing himself as “always an optimist”, Lewis claimed there is a “good chance we can get a deal” on a free trade agreement with the EU.
Word of caution
Lewis was careful to add a note of caution by saying: “The EU need to understand it is for them to move as well, so that we can get a deal that works for the UK as well - a proper free trade agreement that recognizes us as the UK being a sovereign nation".
For his part, Barnier told reporters on the day of his arrival in London (October 22) that “every day counts” and the two sides share a “huge common responsibility” in the talks.
But despite the optimism from both sides, there are still two major obstacles to reaching a breakthrough in the talks: namely competition rules and fishing rights.
On competition rules, the two sides disagree over so-called “state aid” rules, which essentially limit government help for industry so as to ensure fair economic competition.
The UK opposes an EU demand to continue following the bloc’s rules on state subsidies as part of a broader trade agreement.
On fishing rights, the EU is strongly opposed to the UK position of placing annual stock limits in addition to drastically reducing access to Brittish territorial waters for fishing, particularly by French vessels.
Despite the limited progress made in the past few days, the fact remains that time is fast running out.
The EU had previously said that the outline of a deal has to be agreed by the end of October so that an agreement can be ratified by both the UK and EU parliaments before the formal deadline of December 31.