Senior officials say EU and UK negotiators are close to making a deal (Picture: AFP)
The UK and Brussels are close to shaking on a Brexit trade deal – and it could happen tonight.
A senior EU diplomat said an agreement is ‘imminent’ and ‘may come as early as today’, while a Downing Street source said it is ‘possible but far from certain’ it could happen within hours.
A Cabinet call is believed to be taking place in the coming hours to update ministers on the progress of talks, according to Sky News.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he and other EU leaders are on stand-by to endorse any agreement that may be struck up, as the deadline for the end of the transition period looms.
He told RTE: ‘On balance, I think, given the progress that has been made, that there should be a deal.’
This evening, the chief spokesman for European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen teased an announcement by sharing a late-night picture of several pizza boxes as negotiations heat up.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks with President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen about Brexit in his office (Picture: Pippa Fowles/No 10)
Eric Mamer tweeted: ‘Pizza has arrived… Is it Frutti di mare? Or Bismarck? Or good old 4 stagione? Suspense…’
Negotiators are continuing talks in Brussels while Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ms von der Leyen remain in close contact in a bid to iron out any issues with just days to go until the December 31 deadline.
Earlier this month, the pair had agreed to ‘go the extra mile’ and extend talks in a in the hopes of coming to an agreement, with Mr Johnson saying they would ‘try with all our hearts’ to make it happen.
It comes after nine months of intense negotiations, with Brussels and the UK in deadlock over fishing rights and the so-called level playing field ‘ratchet’ clause, which would tie the UK to future EU standards.
The prime minister previously warned a no-deal Brexit was the most likely scenario and told his Cabinet to get ready for the breakdown of talks, resulting in tariffs under World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms from January 1.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier arrives for a meeting in Brussels (Picture: Reuters)
Earlier on Wednesday, Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said he is ‘reasonably optimistic’ that a late deal will be agreed before the current trading arrangements expire.
But Mr Jenrick warned the two ‘serious areas of disagreement’ have remained an issue in the 11th hour talks.
He told Sky News: ‘We are working through those issues, our negotiators will keep going – the Prime Minister has been very clear that he is going to negotiate until the very end, which is December 31, because that is the right thing, it is what the British public would expect.
‘But at the moment there isn’t sufficient progress, it isn’t a deal that the Prime Minister feels he can sign us up to because it doesn’t yet respect us, in full, as a sovereign, independent nation.’
However, in what was being seen as a warning shot to Mr Johnson, the European Research Group (ERG) of hardline pro-Brexit Tory MPs said they would scrutinise any deal in great detail.
A statement issued by the group on Wednesday said: ‘Assuming a deal between UK and the EU is officially confirmed tonight, the European Research Group will tomorrow reconvene the panel of legal experts, chaired by Sir William Cash MP, to examine the details of the deal and legal text.
‘The team of highly-experienced lawyers, previously known as the “star chamber”, was first assembled in 2019 to examine the legal aspects of Theresa May’s original Withdrawal Agreement.
‘Given that the new agreement is also highly complex, the star chamber will scrutinise it in detail, to ensure that its provisions genuinely protect the sovereignty of the United Kingdom after we exit the transition period at the end of this year.’
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