Brexit trade deal expected within hours
Agreement on a post-Brexit trade deal appears likely to be announced within hours, after nine months of tortuous negotiations.
A meeting of EU ambassadors has been pencilled in for Christmas Eve to start the ratification process. Sources in Brussels and London confirmed they believed the talks were coming to a successful conclusion.
The two sides were within “touching distance” of finalising a deal, government sources said, and the prime minister had spoken to European commission president Ursula von der Leyen several times on Wednesday.
“David Frost is in Brussels working through the detailed legal text, line by line, and we hope tonight or tomorrow we will be in a position to announce an agreement, but we’re not there yet,” said the source. “We need to make sure the devil is not in the detail,” they added.
Diplomats representing the EU member states are already combing through some of the 2,000 pages of legal text that have been agreed.
Given the many twists and turns in the Brexit negotiations, the possibility of a last-minute hitch remains, but a final call is believed to be scheduled for late on Wednesday evening. One senior EU source told the Guardian: “The stars have aligned.”
Negotiations are understood to be continuing, with the telephone call by Johnson and the commission president likely to be the moment that a deal is announced, if the final issues are smoothly resolved. Downing Street and the European commission declined to comment.
Speaking to EU ambassadors on Tuesday, the bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said there was “political willing on both sides to get this over the line”, adding that “some things now have to go higher up”, according to one source in the room.
The two sides have been at loggerheads over future EU access and quotas in British fishing waters, an issue of small economic impact but of high political salience for both sides.
A vote by the European parliament to give consent to a trade and security agreement with the UK is no longer possible, given the lack of time left before the end of the transition period.
The UK exits the single market and customs union in eight days’ time, with or without new trade and security arrangements with the EU. MEPs said that did not provide sufficient time for scrutiny.
The capitals will instead have to agree to “provisional application” of the deal on 1 January, with MEPs having their vote later in the month.
The process can still take up to a week, given the need for the treaty to be translated and scrutinised by the 27 governments.
The meeting of ambassadors on Thursday morning is the first step towards the provisional application.