Brexit: 'Narrow path' in view for trade deal - European Union chief

Brexit: 'Narrow path' in view for trade deal - European Union chief”

On Tuesday Prime Minister's Johnson's official spokesperson told a Westminster briefing a trade agreement can not come "at any cost" - and that any agreement must respect the independence and sovereignty of the UK.

"As things stand, I can not tell you whether there will be a deal or not", Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament on Monday morning.

Von der Leyen said it sometimes felt as though the question of fishing rights was unresolvable but she said talks would continue.

"Despite the exhaustion after nearly a year of negotiations, despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over, we think it is responsible at this point to go the extra mile", said von der Leyen in a joint statement on Sunday.

Downing Street has said that despite "some progress" being made in post-Brexit trade talks, the government believes no deal is still the "most likely outcome" of ongoing negotiations.

"We have found a way forward on most issues but two issues still remain outstanding: the level playing field and fisheries", she continued.

Speaking to MEPs in Brussels, she said both teams were "working day and night to reach an agreement."

The level playing field refers to European Union insistence that Britain does not undercut it on environmental, labour and social standards, as well as state aid, while governance covers the resolution of disputes. It finally exits the bloc's single market and customs union on December 31.

Despite conceding that the route to a trade deal is "very narrow", the message from Ms von der Leyen signals a change in tone from what had previously been a pessimistic outlook from both sides.

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In Berlin, Angela Merkel said that progress had been made in the talks but there was no breakthrough yet.

"We are committed to ensure, obviously, that our relations with our (UK) neighbour are the best possible, but also that the interests and long-term strength of the single European market are preserved", he said.

With traffic jams already hampering access to cross-Channel ports like Dover in England and Calais in northern France, the time pressure is adding urgency to the talks.

British officials have been more downbeat than their counterparts in the European Union, with one saying after von der Leyen's remarks: "We've made some progress, but we are still very far apart in key areas".

A United Kingdom government source said on Monday that the talks "remain difficult" and "have not made significant progress in recent days".

But there are still difficulties on how to "future proof" fair competition - what will happen when the two sides' rules diverge.

Britain saw the EU's pitch for "effective remedial measures" as giving the bloc too much leeway to retaliate on trade.

There is a "path" to a Brexit trade deal being agreed before the end of the month, the president of the European Commission has said.

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