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The process was thrown into doubt last week when a member of Mr Barnier’s team tested positive for the virus and top-level meetings were called to a halt. But now UK and EU sources are bullish about the chances of a deal, insisting the incident hadn’t completely derailed the talks. EU officials could even travel to London later this week once Mr Barnier has completed his period of self-isolation.
There is hopes the deal could be completed as early as Thursday when the Frenchman is allowed to return to London for talks.
After the short delay, other officials believe the agreement could come early next week.
The talks have continued via video conference since in-person sessions were called off last Thursday.
Mr Barnier has even been monitoring English lockdown rules, liking a social media post where at least 70 Conservative MPs were calling for more proportionate measures after December 2 – a not-so-subtle indication he is keeping a close eye on the UK.
He liked a post by Mark Harper, who was calling on Boris Johnson to end tough lockdown restrictions with an open letter from Tory MPs – a brewing rebellion against No10 that Mr Barnier seemed keen to point out he was aware of.
A deal could be reached towards the end of the week, with Boris Johnson and EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen expected to discuss the talks on the phone.
The leaders could usher in a political compromise on the most contentious issues still left unresolved – access to Britain’s fishing grounds and common standards, including state aid rules.
Discussions over the so-called level-playing field were last week said to be progressing.
But the row over fisheries is expected to rumble on until the battle end with movement still said to be “too slow” for any compromise to arrive in time for any free-trade deal to be implemented before the end of the year.
Negotiators have just five weeks to broker an agreement before the end of the transition period on December 31.
Parliament, EU member states and the European Parliament are also expected to rubber-stamp any Brexit trade deal before it can enter into force.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday insisted Britain must not sell out in order to strike a Brexit deal in the coming days.
He said the coronavirus pandemic is a bigger threat to the economy than a failure to reach an agreement with Brussels.
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Mr Sunak said: “We are making progress in the talks and I remain hopeful that we can reach resolution.
“We’re being entirely reasonable with our requests and have been consistent and transparent through this process. But we will prosper in any eventuality. It would be preferable to have a deal because it would easy things in the short-term.
“We should not be going for a deal at any price, that would be the wrong thing to do.
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“The most important impact on our economy next year is not going to be from that, it’ll be from coronavirus.”
Mrs von der Leyen told reporters on Friday: “After difficult weeks with very, very sloe progress, now we’ve seen in the last days better progress.
“But there are quite some metres to the finish line.”
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