A Cabinet minister has indicated that hopes are rising for a post-Brexit trade deal although major differences still remain between the UK and European Union.
Negotiators are continuing to talk in Brussels, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen are in close contact in an effort to resolve remaining difficulties.
Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said he is “reasonably optimistic” that a late deal will be agreed before the current trading arrangements expire at the end of the month.
Despite his upbeat assessment, Mr Jenrick told Sky News “serious areas of disagreement” remain on fishing and the “level playing field” measures aimed at preventing unfair competition on standards and state subsidies.
“We are working through those issues, our negotiators will keep going – the Prime Minister has been very clear that he is going to negotiate until the very end, which is December 31, because that is the right thing, it is what the British public would expect.
“But at the moment there isn’t sufficient progress, it isn’t a deal that the Prime Minister feels he can sign us up to because it doesn’t yet respect us, in full, as a sovereign, independent nation.”
French Europe minister Clement Beaune said a no-deal situation would be “catastrophic” for the UK and suggested the EU should hold out.
“We should not put ourselves, Europeans, under time pressure to finish by this hour or that day. Otherwise we would be put ourselves in a situation to make bad concessions.”
Ireland’s premier Micheal Martin raised the prospect of officials working on the text of a Brexit deal on Christmas Day if a breakthrough comes before then.
The Taoiseach said he and other EU leaders were on stand-by to endorse any agreement that might emerge from negotiations between Brussels and the UK Government.
“And I think that a no deal would be an appalling shock to the economic system on top of Covid-19, which has really hit the respective of economies of the UK, Ireland and the EU member states.
“In particular, our domestic economy has taken a very big hit. And so we do need a deal.
“It’s all down to fish, it would appear right now.”
On Tuesday, the EU’s lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, said they were making a “final push” to reach a deal and it was a “crucial moment”.
France closed its border with the UK as a result of the new strain of coronavirus that is spreading rapidly across London and the South East.
In a tweet, Mr Verhofstadt said: “We forgot what borders look like. Some thought they would remain open with or without the EU. They will now start to understand what leaving the EU really means.”
Asked whether there is a link between French President Emmanuel Macron’s action to shut the border with France and the Brexit negotiations, Mr Jenrick said: “I hope not.”