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Brussels sources say progress in the wrangling over the future relationship pact has been “slow” as both sides fail to bridge the gaps in the discussions over post-Brexit fishing rights and common standards. Downing Street has ruled out setting a deadline but EU diplomats are pushing hard for progress ahead of a summit of European leaders next Thursday. Lord Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, and EU counterpart Michel Barnier are expected to announce a short hiatus tomorrow before returning to Brussels after the weekend.
The pair and their most senior deputies have promised to stay in “close contact” during the break as they explore possible compromises, according to a source close to the talks.
The European Commission confirmed talks would continue over the weekend.
Mr Barnier’s official spokesman: “Intensive talks are ongoing in London as we speak. We are working hard for a deal. Talks will continue in London over the weekend and will take place in Brussels next week.”
Senior figures in Brussels have accused British negotiators of blocking chances of a breakthrough by withdrawing possible compromises.
“Nothing has changed,” one EU diplomat fumed.
UK sources insisted Lord Frost’s team had made “constructive engagements” in the talks with Brussels.
However, the insider claimed the bloc’s proposals for a regulatory level playing field “make no sense if we want to have a stable agreement”.
They said: “We have always said that both parties need to be able to protect our industry from unfair practices that might distort our trade.
“But any such mechanisms need to be proportionate and appropriate. The EU’s proposals make no sense if we want to have a stable agreement.”
The diplomat said chances of a no-deal Brexit are rising unless progress is made ahead of the EU’s leaders’ videoconference on November 19.
The source said: “The deal will have to be done in Brussels next week, otherwise there is no deal.”
There are concerns in the Belgian capital that any further delays in the negotiations would leave enough time for the European Parliament to ratify any agreement before the end of the transition period in December.
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Euro MPs are scheduled to green-light any free-trade agreement at their final session of the year on December 16.
But senior EU officials were said to be considering an emergency vote by MEPs to rubber-stamp the pact between Christmas and the New Year.
Earlier today Michael Gove told the House of Commons “progress is being made, but divergences remain”.
The Cabinet Office minster added: “The UK has already shown a great degree of flexibility in these negotiations, but it is important also that the European Union shows flexibility too.
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“In particular, there needs to be a full recognition that we are sovereign equals. And any attempt to continue to tie the UK into EU processes or to extend EU jurisdiction by other means would be quite wrong.”
And Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “Talks are continuing in London and the negotiators are working hard to bridge the still significant gaps that remain.
“Time is in short supply and there are still significant gaps that remain.”
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