A Brexit deal could be agreed in as little as ten days, a senior MEP said, after Michel Barnier briefed the European Parliament on the UK-EU trade negotiations on Friday.
The EU’s chief negotiator told MEPs he expected trade talks to continue until the “last possible moment” after negotiations closed in London today.
It now appears certain that the unofficial deadline of Thursday’s EU summit, where the bloc’s 27 leaders were expected to give their political blessing to the deal, will be missed.
The European Parliament told Mr Barnier that the absolute latest they could get the negotiated deal was December 10, the first day of the next scheduled EU summit. Sources warned that the deal would have to be agreed before then to allow time for translation into the EU’s official languages and for related decisions in the council.
After EU leaders approve the deal, MEPs must back it before the end of the year, and the transition period, to prevent a no deal, which will mean the UK and EU trading on less lucrative WTO terms.
“Given the information I have I expect the negotiation to last another seven to ten days,” said Philippe Lamberts, a senior MEP on the European Parliament’s Brexit committee on Friday.
Clément Beaune, France’s Europe minister, said, “I think a deal is possible. Both parties want one. It will require several days, possibly two to three more weeks, of negotiation”.
He heaped pressure on Mr Barnier to get the deal done before December 10. “If it happens after the end of November, we will be in trouble,” he said.
The two sides remain divided over fishing, the level playing field guarantees and the deal’s enforcement.
The EU and UK have shared new proposals on fishing rights but Downing Street said there were still significant differences over the three major obstacles to a deal.
Informal talks could continue through the weekend but formal negotiations will resume in Brussels on Monday.
Mr Lamberts, who is leader of the European greens, said that the departure of Dominic Cummings was “probably the sign that Johnson has begun his U-turn and will in the end accept EU conditions".
Manfred Weber, the leader of European People’s Party, the largest group in the Brussels and Strasbourg parliament, urged Mr Johnson to cave on his red lines after Mr Cummings announced his resignation.
The political ally of Angela Merkel told the BBC, “I see what is happening now in Downing St (Cummings). We can also see this as a quite chaotic situation where we don’t have an idea what is really the line in Great Britain.
“So don’t tell us we should be ready for compromise. We need a clear idea from Boris Johnson now. "
British sources conceded the negotiations could not go on for “much longer” than the next nine days. Both sides need to ratify the deal but there was more pressure on the EU side’s timetable, they said.
“We never said Thursday’s summit was any sort of deadline,” an EU official said, “it’d be nice and tidy but I am not sure it is going to work out like that.”
MEPs were originally scheduled to vote on the deal on December 16. They could now hold the vote after Christmas but before the end of the year and transition period.
An EU diplomat said the onus was on the parliament and the council to be creative in accelerating its procedures to beat the no deal deadline of January 1.
Brexit Bulletin newsletter SUBSCRIBER (article)