EU sounds optimistic note as hopes for Brexit trade deal mount

The EU said on Thursday it was making “good progress” in talks with the UK as negotiators race to land a post-Brexit trade agreement in the coming days.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said on Twitter that talks were in their “final stretch” but that there remained some “last stumbling blocks”.

Separately, Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons, confirmed on Thursday that MPs would be recalled in an emergency session next week to approve an EU-UK deal, if an agreement is forthcoming.

Their words come as hopes increase that a trade deal can be landed soon. Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, told the European Parliament on Wednesday that issues of fair competition and fisheries remained outstanding, but that the sides had largely resolved differences over how to enforce the treaty.

Mr Barnier debriefed presidents of the parliament’s political groups on Thursday morning, and urged the EU side to maintain its unity after the discussion. A participant at the meeting said Mr Barnier told the leaders talks remained difficult but that a deal was possible, and could be reached in the next days. The chief bottleneck remained fisheries, he told them.

After the meeting, leaders of several of the parliament’s largest political groups said that a deal would need to be reached by Sunday at the latest for the assembly to ratify it this year. Manfred Weber, head of the centre-right European People’s party group, wrote on Twitter: “We owe it to the people and businesses in our constituencies, who will be heavily affected by Brexit, to scrutinise the deal appropriately.”

This week Mr Barnier warned ambassadors that if discussions dragged on too long, the two sides could be forced into a short-term, no-deal scenario early in the new year before any trade agreement could be brought into effect. 

One alternative would be to bring the deal into “provisional” application, under which it takes force on time subject to ratification by the European Parliament down the line, said an EU official. But the parliament is sceptical about that route as it seeks to maintain its right of scrutiny. 

In the UK, Mr Rees-Mogg said talks were continuing in Brussels but that MPs should be ready to return in the event a deal was signed. “The country would expect nothing less,” he told MPs. Tory officials say that the Commons could sit as early as 9am on Monday, if a deal is concluded by the weekend.

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