'Significant' gaps make outcome of Brexit trade talks uncertain: EU officials
By Gabriela Baczynska and John Chalmers BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Significant gaps remain on three main issues at negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and the European Union, and the outcome of the talks is still uncertain, EU officials said on Thursday. The two sides are trying to secure a deal to govern nearly $1 trillion in annual trade after Britain leaves the EU's orbit on Dec
By Gabriela Baczynska and John Chalmers
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Significant gaps remain on three main issues at negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and the European Union, and the outcome of the talks is still uncertain, EU officials said on Thursday.
The two sides are trying to secure a deal to govern nearly $1 trillion in annual trade after Britain leaves the EU's orbit on Dec. 31, when a transition period of informal membership ends following its official departure last January.
But Stefaan de Rynck, who is part of chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier's team in Brussels, said negotiators have failed to resolve differences on fishing rights in UK waters, ensuring fair competition guarantees and ways to solve future disputes.
In a move that could further undermine the talks, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government said that - despite EU protests - parliament would press ahead with draft laws next week that would breach the withdrawal treaty the sides signed last January.
"The long and the short story is that talks are continuing in London. Significant divergences remain," de Rynck told a seminar in the Belgian capital. "Both sides are working hard to overcome them but the outcome is uncertain."
He likened the negotiations to a marathon and said the sides were "probably past kilometre 40" of the just over 42-km (26-mile) race.
The negotiators ordered pizzas as they worked late on Wednesday trying to overcome differences, de Rynck said.
But the two sides blame each other for weeks of impasse at the talks and both say the other must compromise if a deal is to be secured in time to go into force on Jan. 1.
An EU diplomat who declined to be identified said the bloc's negotiators had moved to "within millimetres" of the limits of their negotiating mandate.
"We've reached a point where we are so close to the limitsof our mandate that we need a movement on the side of the UK ifwe want to strike a deal," the envoy said.
ONLY "A DEAL THAT IS RIGHT"
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he hoped for a deal in the next few days.
British Education Secretary Gavin Williamson reported "good progress" but said Johnson's government would accept only "a deal that is right for Britain, if such a deal is available."
"If such a deal isn't available, then we're not going to sign up to something that is to our detriment," he told Sky.
Failure to secure a deal would clog borders, worry financial markets and disrupt supply chains as the world tries to cope with the vast economic cost of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But France, Belgium and the Netherlands have said that failing to secure an agreement would be less damaging than agreeing a deal on terms that are bad for the EU.
Several EU sources said the next 24-48 hours would be crucial to whether a deal can be agreed.
As negotiations continued, a senior official in Britain's lower house of parliament said the Internal Market Bill - designed to protect trade between the four nations of the United Kingdom - would go before parliament again next week.
The EU objects to the bill because it unpicks the withdrawal treaty. The chamber is also introducing new legislation next week that is widely expected to contain more provisions that overrule parts of the EU exit deal relating to Northern Ireland.
(Additional reporting by William James and Elizabeth Piper; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Nick Macfie and Timothy Heritage)
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