Hopes of Brexit breakthrough rise as Michel Barnier meets EU fishing ministers and will come to London TONIGHT for talks

  • Michel Barnier said he will travel to London this evening to resume trade talks
  • Face-to-face talks were suspended after EU official tested positive for Covid
  • Talks expected to take place over this weekend as hopes of breakthrough grow 

Michel Barnier will travel to London this evening to resume face-to-face post-Brexit trade talks with the UK as hopes of a breakthrough increased. 

Top level talks were suspended last week after a member of the EU negotiating team tested positive for coronavirus. 

But Mr Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, announced this morning his period in self-isolation had now come to an end and ‘physical negotiations can continue’. 

However, he warned the ‘same significant divergences persist’, with the two sides deadlocked on fishing rights, the so-called level playing field on rules and the future governance of the deal. 

Mr Barnier is due to come to the UK after he has briefed EU ambassadors and the European Parliament on the state of the discussions. 

He will also reportedly hold showdown talks with eight EU fisheries ministers amid speculation the EU could be poised to back down on the issue.  

Michel Barnier announced this morning that he will travel to London this evening to resume face-to-face post-Brexit trade talks with the UK

The latest round of face-to-face talks is expected to take place over the weekend amid hopes of a deal being in sight by the start of next week. 

Mr Barnier’s trip to London appeared to be in doubt last night following reports he had threatened to walk away from negotiations unless Downing Street signalled a willingness to compromise on the remaining points of contention. 

But he tweeted this morning: ‘In line with Belgian rules, my team and I are no longer in quarantine. Physical negotiations can continue. I am briefing Member States & [the European Parliament] today. 

‘Same significant divergences persist. Travelling to London this evening to continue talks w/[Lord Frost] + team.’   

Negotiations continued remotely over the past week but it is hoped in person talks will spark a breakthrough. 

There are now just five weeks until the end of the ‘standstill’ post-Brexit transition period. 

A failure to strike an accord would result in a chaotic divorce on January 1, with the two sides forced to trade on World Trade Organisation terms which would see tariffs imposed on goods. 

There is now massive pressure on negotiators to conclude the talks as soon as possible because of the amount of time it will take the EU to ratify and roll out any deal. 

There are fears that if talks continue beyond next week then the bloc could struggle to complete the ratification and implementation process before the end of the transition period. 

It came as it emerged EU negotiators are looking at a compromise on the issue of fishing rights. 

Mr Barnier is meeting EU fishing ministers to discuss a possible compromise over their red line on access to British waters

Mr Barnier is said to be meeting with a selection of EU fisheries ministers and diplomats believe he will outline a potential climbdown which could get a deal over the line.

He is expected to tell ministers that a concession in the row over future access to British waters is needed to secure an overall trade deal.

EU diplomats believe an olive branch on fishing could give the UK negotiating team some room to soften its stance on the other key sticking points. 

An EU diplomat said: ‘That’s the price the UK needs to pocket for a compromise on the level playing field.’   

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