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The Brussels diplomat told European capitals that “considerable progress” had been made putting pen to paper on the legal text. But he conceded they had failed to make a breakthrough on the key sticking points of access to British fishing waters, future common standards and policing the final agreement. In a private meeting with EU27 ambassadors tonight, Mr Barnier hinted agreements won’t be found until closer to the mid-November deadline.
The Frenchman announced he would travel to London for further trade talks with Britain on Sunday.
Brussels sources said Mr Barnier claimed Lord Frost, the Prime Minister’s Brexit envoy, was deliberately running down the clock in order to secure a number of concessions from the bloc.
Senior diplomatic sources, however, insisted it is “too late for brinkmanship” in the trade talks.
One EU diplomat said: “One would have thought a fortnight from the deadline that more movement under the radar would be apparent but so far the Commission hasn’t been able to tell us that things are moving.
“Is this a brinkmanship strategy? We don’t know, but as a ploy to get what they want it would fail.”
A second source said: “The Brits are deliberately running down the clock in the hope of getting what they want at the last minute – but anything can happen at five minutes to midnight.”
The diplomat insisted talks over the regulatory level-playing field are stuck because of Britain refusal to agree to “joint development of future higher standards and a common definition of the current standards”.
Brussels is pushing for the UK to commit to the same level of environmental standards, workers’ rights and state subsidies for business.
UK and EU officials agreed to take a brief break before picking up formal wrangling over the trade deal in London on Sunday.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen could hold talks with Boris Johnson next week to deliver a final political push if a Brexit deal is in sight, a source said.
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Both sides are hoping to strike an agreement by November 16 at the latest but fear talks can still collapse if the deadlock remains.
But sources involved in the talks insisted they have managed to narrow the gaps on fisheries and the level playing field, including state aid, without any significant breakthroughs.
A UK source close to the talks said: “A deal is possible but far from certain.”
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Earlier this week details emerged of a potential fisheries compromise that could unblock the talks.
In a desperate bid to prevent negotiations from collapsing, Mr Barnier said he was ready to let the exact numbers of fish both sides can land be decided after the Brexit deal is struck.
Sources said the compromise will help deliver on Boris Johnson’s pledge to guarantee a “huge increase of catch” for British fishermen after the end of this year.
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