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Brexit Deal Hangs in Balance as Negotiators Push for the Line

Nine months of talks between the U.K. and European Union over a post-Brexit trade accord are hanging in the balance, with officials trying to bring them to a conclusion as soon as Wednesday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen intervened personally Monday and Tuesday, holding several phone conversations in a last-ditch bid to reach an agreement before the U.K. leaves the single market at the end of the month.

Negotiators were still locked in talks in Brussels late Tuesday as Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said both sides were ready to make “a final push.” The discussions are focused on two key disagreements over fish: what access EU boats will have to British waters, and what rights the EU will have to impose retaliatory tariffs should the U.K. limit that access in the future.

Both sides have made an agreement on fishing a precondition for any wider deal over their future relationship, even if the 650 million euros ($790 million) of fish EU boats catch in U.K. waters each year is a fraction of value of goods traded between Britain and the bloc each year. Barnier told a meeting of ambassadors from the bloc’s 27 member states Tuesday that there has been progress in the talks, and a deal could be signed before Christmas — if the British are prepared to compromise further on fishing, according to diplomats briefed on the discussions.

Officials said the talks could still continue beyond Christmas, or fail completely. Senior EU officials said the decision lies with Johnson, while people familiar with the British side said the onus was on the bloc to move. Barnier said his team is prepared to keep negotiating after the U.K.’s post-Brexit transition period expires Dec. 31 if that is what is required to close a deal.

Brexit Deal Hangs in Balance as Negotiators Push for the Line, Bloomberg, Dec 23

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