Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has told Sky News that Sunday will be a “point of finality” for Brexit trade talks if the EU does not “move substantially” in negotiations.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday night shared a three-hour dinner with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the hope of breaking months of deadlock.
Despite the two leaders ordering their chief negotiators to resume talks over the next few days, they also both agreed that trade talks remained “very difficult” and there are still “major differences between the two sides”.
Lord Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, has remained in Brussels following Wednesday’s dinner to continue talks with his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier.
Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen said a “firm decision” about the talks should be taken by Sunday.
And Mr Raab suggested to Sky News this was now being treated as a hard deadline by the UK government – by which to decide whether a free trade agreement is still possible.
“I think we view it as a point when we need some finality,” he said.
“I’m just a bit reticent ever to say – you can never say never with these EU negotiations.
“Of course, it depends if the EU moves. If the EU moves substantially and actually we’re only dotting a few Is or crossing a few Ts, it might be different.
“But I think without movement on the crucial two, three areas that I’ve described, I think that will be a point of finality.
“And that’s certainly the way the UK side is approaching it.”
Mr Raab said the government would “probably” need a yes or no answer on whether a trade deal is possible by Sunday.
But he warned the UK would not concede on so-called level playing field provisions or fisheries – the two most contentious issues – over the next four days.
“We will leave no stone unturned, we would like a free trade deal with the EU,” the foreign secretary added.
“But we’re not going to sacrifice the basic points of democratic principle on fisheries or on control of our laws as we leave the transition period.
“I think it’s important that’s recognised on the EU side and, if they do, I think the scope for a deal is still there to be done.”
Prior to his trip to Brussels on Wednesday, the prime minister had told MPs the EU wanted the “automatic right” to punish the UK in the future, if it does not comply with new EU laws.
He also suggested the EU wanted to keep control of fishing rights in UK waters beyond the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.
Mr Raab called on Brussels to recognise “two basic points of principle that no other country in the world would accept in dealing with the EU or anyone else as an independent state”.
He said: “The concept the UK would leave the transition period as an independent coastal state but without control of our fisheries; that’s something that no country in the world has accepted, or is in the position of – why would the UK?
“Likewise, when we leave, we should be in control of our laws.
“We’ll accept the kind of requirements in the EU’s own free trade agreements, whether it’s South Korea or Canada.
“What we’re not going to do is allow the EU, undemocratically, to control our laws in this country.”
Ireland’s European Commissioner, Mairead McGuinness, said on Thursday she believed “there is a deal to be done” with the UK.
“I hope that we all get a Christmas present over the weekend – an early one,” she told RTE Radio.
“And that there is a trade agreement, because I think from all our sides … that would be the best possible outcome.”
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