“As things stand, I cannot tell you whether there will be a deal or not. But I can tell you there is a path to an agreement now. The path may be very narrow, but it is there. And it is therefore our responsibility to continue trying,” von der Leyen told the European Parliament.
She said the two sides have “found a way forward on most issues,” but the two remaining sticking points—fishing rights and fair competition rules needed for a “level playing field”—have yet to be solved.
“The next days are going to be decisive,” von der Leyen said. “The clock puts us all in a very difficult situation, not least this parliament and its right to exercise democratic scrutiny and ratification.”
The UK–EU trade deal, if agreed, will need to be ratified by both the British Parliament and the European Parliament before Dec. 31, when the Brexit transition period is set to end. But there are now only a few days left before the Christmas break.
If no trade deal is reached by then, Britain will default to trading with the 27 EU countries under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
Von der Leyen reported progress on the issues of state aid and standards, which are key to ensuring fair competition on a “level playing field.”
Though “difficulties still remain on how to really future-proof fair competition,” she said, issues linked to governance—or enforcement mechanisms—are now “largely being resolved.”
But discussions on fisheries are “still very difficult,” she said. “In all honesty, it sometimes feels that we will not be able to resolve these questions. But we must continue to try finding a solution and it is the only responsible and right course of action.”
The EU has set out a series of “targeted contingency measures” in preparation for the disruption a “no-deal” Brexit would cause.
The Food and Drink Federation told Parliament last week that the UK’s food supply chain could face disruption when the Brexit transition period ends.
Lily Zhou and Reuters contributed to this report.