Talks between the UK and EU on a post-Brexit trade deal are in the “end phase”, an EU official has told Sky News.
With both sides trying to reach an agreement before the end of the transition period next week, sources in London and Brussels have told Sky News that a Brexit deal could be close.
It’s understood the cabinet was asked to take part in phone call with the prime minister late on Wednesday night.
Sky’s deputy political editor Sam Coates said: “Michel Barnier and David Frost [the chief negotiators] are locked in a room in Brussels.
“It seems like they have come to a political agreement about how they want to manage key Brexit issues, but it’s being turned into legal text.
“That is an optimistic sign, it does suggest that the end process of this is near.
“But it does not mean that it is a done deal by any stretch of the imagination. Number 10 are stressing that negotiations completely can collapse.”
There were suggestions that an announcement could be made as early as this evening, but that deadline appears to be slipping.
Sky’s Europe correspondent Michelle Clifford said there was a “sense of optimism” in Brussels, with an EU official telling her: “We are in the end phase now.”
She said: “There is no confirmation of that deal yet, there are still rows going on, we understand, over fishing and other issues.
“But it is the most optimistic that we’ve heard this side of the Channel sounding for a very long time – in fact, ever.”
Both sides had set a deadline of mid-October for reaching a trade deal, with the expectation it would then take time for the final version to be scrutinised and voted on.
Parliament needs to ratify a deal if one is agreed, but it has already broken up for Christmas.
However, Sky News has been told MPs could be recalled on 30 December to approve any last-minute agreement.
A senior EU diplomat told the Reuters news agency earlier that a provisional application of a deal would need to be approved by member states because there is not enough time for the EU Parliament to ratify the agreement.
The European Research Group of pro-Brexit Conservative MPs, a group the prime minister will want to keep onside, has said it will examine any deal in detail and issue its verdict before Parliament reconvenes.
It said in a statement that it would reconvene its so-called “star chamber” of legal experts to pore over the terms of any deal.
Britain left the EU at the end of January and entered into an 11-month transition period, following EU rules and regulations whilst trying to negotiate a free trade deal by the end of this year.
But a number of sticking points have emerged during the negotiations.
These include fishing rights and the so-called “level playing field” – measures to prevent what is seen as unfair competition through the lowering of standards or the use of state subsidies.
Boris Johnson has acknowledged that a no-deal Brexit “may be difficult at first”, but has maintained that the UK would “prosper mightily” under such a scenario if it comes to pass.
But opponents say leaving without a deal and consequently having to trade on World Trade Organisation terms from 1 January would cause problems for business and push up prices for consumers.
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