Brexit Trade Talks at ‘Crucial Moment,’ EU Negotiator Says

December 20, 2020 Updated: December 20, 2020

British and EU officials are still working hard at this “crucial moment” in Brexit trade talks, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Dec. 20, with only days left before the Brexit transition period is set to end on Dec. 31.

Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost have been struggling to break the deadlock, even with intervention by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“In this crucial moment for the EU-GB negotiations, we continue to work hard with @DavidGHFrost and his team,” he wrote on Twitter.

“The EU remains committed to a fair, reciprocal & balanced agreement. We respect the sovereignty of the UK. And we expect the same.

“Both EU&GB must have the right to set their own laws & control their own waters. And we should both be able to act when our interests are at stake.”

Britain and the European Union have been unable to resolve two remaining sticking points—fishing rights and fair competition rules, which the EU insists are indispensable to maintaining a “level playing field” between businesses of the two sides.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock attributed the deadlock to the EU’s “unreasonable demands.”

“We want these talks to reach a positive conclusion; of course, I want a deal. I think everybody wants a deal. Unfortunately, the EU have put in some unreasonable demands,” Hancock told Sky News on Dec. 20.

Johnson’s office said late on Dec. 19 that the EU was “continuing to make demands that are incompatible with our independence.”

“We cannot accept a deal that doesn’t leave us in control of our own laws or waters,” Downing Street said in a statement.

“We need to get any deal right and based on terms which respect what the British people voted for.”

Johnson and von der Leyen spoke on the phone last week, after which he said that the talks were in a “serious situation” and an agreement would be unlikely “unless the EU position changed substantially.”

And von der Leyen said that despite progress, “big differences” remain, particularly on fisheries, and that “bridging them will be very challenging.”

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.