LONDON / BRUSSELS: UK High Minister Michael Gove said on Thursday that any post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union would need parliamentary approval before December 31 and put the chances of success at less than 50%.
His pessimistic tone was in stark contrast to remarks by the EU chief negotiator which suggested that there had been good progress, as both sides attempted to prevent a turbulent ending to four years of torturous discussions in two weeks’ time.
Optimism had grown over the imminence of a deal to maintain trade in goods which makes up half of the annual EU-UK trade, worth nearly a trillion dollars in total, free of tariffs and quotas beyond 31 December.
UK Interior Minister Priti Patel said the talks had entered the “tunnel” – the EU jargon for the final and secret stage of make-or-break, and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted: ” Good progress, but the last obstacles remain “.
Gove, charged with implementing a previous divorce settlement, told a parliamentary committee: “I think unfortunately it is more likely that we will not secure a deal.”
When asked about the likelihood of a deal, he said: “Less than 50%”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the face of the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign, has long said he will not accept a deal that does not respect British sovereignty after winning the election last year with a pledge to “regain control.”
Gove said some of the remaining differences went “to the heart of the (government) mandate.”
An EU official who refused to be named said the disagreements on fisheries have not yet been resolved. Two EU diplomats and a bloc official said they did not expect a deal by Friday.
Many deadlines have been missed in the talks since Britain left the bloc in January.
The European Parliament has said it could hold an emergency plenary in late December if an agreement is reached by Monday.
If it came later, however, EU diplomats said the blockade could still put it in place from 1 January without the consent of lawmakers.
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