“There is still an agreement to be made” between the UK and the EU on trade after Brexit, the minister told the BBC before negotiations resumed.
But Environment Secretary George Eustice said “the sticking points” to fishing and commercial rules still exist.
The ‘Significant Differences’
The UK’s chief negotiator Lord Frost is in Brussels for the talks, and the agreement deadline is near.
The Irish Foreign Minister said it was “in everyone’s interest” to reach an agreement.
Another discrepancy is access to UK water by EU fishing vessels – an issue that arose last week, with the UK accusing the EU of making additional demands at the “last minute”.
Another is that steps should be taken to ensure a “equitable playground” for businesses on both sides.
If no agreement is reached, a review of the borders and taxes on goods traveling between the UK and the EU will be introduced later this year.
Mr Eustice told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “Something still needs to be done, but it is undeniable that the end of last week was a real setback.”
He added: “The points of adherence (sticking points basically) are always there – they are very important. It has always been clear that we can only make a pact if we respect our sovereignty.”
The Case Of ‘No Deal’
Mr Eustice said: “I think we are probably in the last few days about deciding whether to have an agreement.
“Of course, if the environment warms up and a lot of progress is made and it is about filtering information, you can always get more time, you can always expand.
“But I think that unless we can address these very important issues right now we will have to participate in the next few days.”
The EU wants this agreement. Non-contractual conditions can be very costly for EU businesses – a nightmare for European fishing communities, who rely heavily on access to UK water.
So the German automotive industry and others must work hard for EU governments to use these two extra days of negotiations to finally sign an agreement, right?
That’s not right.
The UK government is not the only one that recognizes that no agreement is “better than a bad deal”. EU countries that trade heavily with the UK, such as France, the Netherlands and Belgium, say so too.
This week they put pressure on those who represented them in negotiations not to give “too much”. France threatens to use its veto, while Germany speaks less of red lines and compromise.
The European Unions Priority
The tone is different; message the same. The EU’s priority is to protect its single market in partnership with the UK.
It emphasizes that the government must sign “fair competition laws” and an agreed method of application, before gaining better access to a single market than any other non-EU country.
During this last-minute negotiation, EU governments said they were mindful of not signing the agreement in a hurry.
If the push explodes, they say, they choose the short-term pain of the deal, in order to protect their long-term interests: not to expose their businesses to what they consider to be unfair competition in their single market.
But EU fingers have fallen out with consensus.
Arriving in Brussels, Lord Frost said: “We are working hard to reach an agreement. We will see what happens in the negotiations today.”
Sunday’s meeting follows talks between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday.
In a joint statement afterwards they said fishing rights, competition rules and that any agreement that would be used would still create problems, and that “no agreement would be possible if these issues were not resolved”.
They agreed to discuss again on Monday evening.
Basics Of Brexit
- Brexit happened but rules didn’t change at once: The UK left the European Union on 31 January but leaders needed time to negotiate a deal for life afterwards – they got 11 months
- Talks are on again: The UK and the EU have until 31 December to agree a trade deal as well as other things, such as fishing rights
- If there is no deal: Border checks and taxes will be introduced for goods travelling between the UK and the EU. But deal or no deal, we will still see changes
It’s Not Over Yet
Speaking to the Irish newspaper The Independent, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said: “We may get a deal rather than a chance because I think it helps everyone.”
He added that EU reports had made the situation difficult to negotiate on France’s mandate.
But Mr Eustice said the revised requirements of the fishing rights group last week meant the talks were “back”.
He added that the UK was “requesting a common type of trade agreement such as the [EU] agreement with Canada” and that this “was actually not so much to ask”.
Mr Eustice also said the UK “cannot be the only country in the world that does not control its waters”.
It’s not over, yet.
Both sides in this complex and exhausting process agreed that it is worthwhile to try one last time to find a way through their great differences.
But statements from the Prime Minister and head of the EU, Ursula von der Leyen, clearly indicate that the trade agreement is currently unavailable – meaning that if no one appears in the next few days, it will simply not happen.
The aspect of the Brexit negotiations was usually the last minute, the political emergency, before suddenly, see, the agreement emerges from the rubble.
On Monday night, that custom may have been repeated.
What Needs To Be Done After A Deal?
However, there seems to be more to do than just ironing a glitches at the last minute.
EU spokeswoman Michel Barnier tweeted after Saturday’s statement was released, saying: “We will see if there is a way forward.”
However, even if the two sides agree, there are still obstacles to overcome.
Any agreement reached will need to be translated into official text and translated into all EU languages, and approved by the European Parliament.
The UK government is likely to introduce a law that applies certain parts of any agreement reached, to which members of Parliament will be able to vote on it.
In terms of labor, Dignified Cabinet Minister Rachel Reeves told the Andrew Marr Show that the government “must make an agreement” but his party “must see the content” before endorsing or rejecting it.
The 27 EU national parliaments may also need to ratify the agreement – depending on the content of the agreement.
Coming Up Next Week
After meetings between the parties on Sunday and a leadership meeting on Monday, the UK Internal Market Bill will return to the House of Commons.
Certain sections may allow the government to violate international law, by adding elements of the first agreement with the EU Brexit – a withdrawal agreement.
The EU is not happy about that, nor is the House of Lords, voting to repeal those sections of the bill.
But the government is still supporting its measures, which could create tensions in trade talks, and is expected to pass them on to communities on Monday night.
The Tax (Change of Time) Tax Bill – which contains a lot of power to violate the legal requirements of the withdrawal agreement – will also return to Communities this week.