Britain and the EU can see the “landing zones” for a free trade agreement, according to Ireland’s Prime Minister as both sides weakened their stance on fisheries and hopes grew that an agreement could be reached early next week.
Micheál Martin’s comments reflect ministers’ expectation in London that a deal could take shape over the weekend, despite Downing Street insisting it could fall apart at the last minute.
There have been allegations in Brussels that the UK was heading for a compromise on access to its fishing grounds – possibly the greatest pre-eminent barrier to an agreement. Officials said the EU is also moderating their demands.
UK Ministers confirmed that an agreement could take shape that would allow EU boats to continue to have “generous” access to UK waters during a transition period, reflecting the relatively small size of the UK fleet.
“We don’t have enough boats to catch all the fish,” said one minister, adding that an agreement must recognize UK sovereignty but could allow “generous” rights for EU boats during the build-up of the UK fleet.
It is far from certain that an agreement will prove possible. The time is very short
British officials spoke of a “transitional period, not the status quo”, but that is not enough for the EU side, which disagrees that access to British waters should be made conditional on the outcome of the annual fisheries negotiations.
The EU endeavors to maintain as large a part of its existing quota share as possible in fish stocks. She also wants guarantees of continued access to British waters, which London sees as an insult to its sovereignty.
Mr Martin told the Bloomberg New Economy Forum that both sides could see “the landing zones” around the deal.
“Will the decision be made in London to try and say we make a deal? Some of us think this is an issue that has yet to be resolved, ”he said before warning that no deal would be“ politically harmful ”for Britain.
Michel Barnier, EU chief negotiator, is preparing to brief the EU ambassadors on the progress made on Friday, although this point in time may be postponed given developments in the talks.
Both sides will see the moment next week when a deal – if there is one – will be made.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already opted for a “hard Brexit”, with Great Britain leaving the EU internal market and the customs union. Businesses and individuals will have additional red tape regardless of whether a trade agreement is concluded or not.
A free trade agreement, however, would remove tariffs and quotas and create a platform of goodwill on which other agreements could be made to liberalize trade between the two sides in the future.
Mr Johnson’s cabinet on Tuesday discussed the prospect of a deal. A spokesman for Number 10 said the prime minister would not accept an agreement “at the expense of our core principles of sovereignty over laws, borders, money and fish”.
The spokesman added: “It is far from certain that an agreement will prove to be possible. The time is very short.
“As the Prime Minister has said, if we cannot find a suitable compromise with our European friends that fully respects Britain’s sovereignty, we are leaving the transition period on Australian terms and he is absolutely confident that we will prosper with or without a free trade agreement.”
In anticipation of a possible settlement, Mr Johnson’s parliamentary officers are preparing plans for legislation required to incorporate trade deals into the code before January 1.