In Brief

Brexit deal on track to be over the line by ‘end of week’, says Irish PM

Optimistic prediction comes despite ongoing failure to resolve ‘fundamental differences’ in negotiations

Ireland’s prime minister is predicting that a Brexit deal outline may be completed within days as Michel Barnier emerges from quarantine to resume talks.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin yesterday said he was “hopeful that, by the end of this week, that we could see the outlines of a deal”. The outcome of the final push to get a free trade deal over the line would come “down to political will, both in the United Kingdom and I’m clear the political will is there from the European Union”, Martin added.

His encouraging comments to reporters came as the EU’s chief negotiator Barnier ended a stint in self-isolation triggered by an outbreak of Covid-19 in the European team last week. 

Barnier is now “expected to be given the all-clear to head to London for the last round of talks”, says The Times. With the clock ticking down until the end of the Brexit transition period, the EU’s negotiating boss last night tweeted: “Time is short. Fundamental divergences still remain but we are continuing to work hard for a deal.” 

The main stumbling blocks to securing a future trade agreement are competition rules and fisheries

The “slow pace of negotiations on a legal text, predominantly caused by the EU’s refusal to work on drafts until late last month, is causing internal problems in Brussels” too, the newspaper reports. “Deadlines for the European Parliament to ratify the treaty, which must be translated into all 24 EU languages first, have come and gone.”

MEPs will now vote on the deal via video link on 28 December. 

In order to break the deadlock over the issues yet to be resolved, “negotiators are exploring the idea of review clauses” - raising the possibility that “parts of the deal could be revisited several years after they take effect”, the Financial Times reports.

EU diplomats told the paper that the two sides were exploring whether such clauses “had the potential to ease the pain of compromises needed to get an agreement done”, but cautioned that “both sides still had very different views of how this might work”.

The possibility of a review clause was raised last week as a means to overcome disagreements on fishing rights. The UK proposed that the EU could retain part of its current quota rights for several years, after which negotiations would be reopened to agree a future arrangement.

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