Britain and the EU are giving "one final push" to sign a post-Brexit trade deal, Michel Barnier said this afternoon, amid mounting speculation, an agreement is now near.
The EU negotiator said talks between the two sides are now at a "crucial moment" and the end of the "deadlock" transition period on December 31 is only 10 days away.
His comments came after it was revealed that Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen had made a secret phone call yesterday to discuss the state of the talks and when negotiators appeared to be nearing a breakthrough in fishing rights.
Citing EU sources, the AFP news agency reported that the Prime Minister and the President of the European Commission had been on the phone yesterday evening.
Number 10 did not deny the undisclosed call took place. The two heads of state and government had previously undertaken to “stay in close contact” if the time until the end of the “standstill” phase expired.
Sources said the couple speak "from time to time as it won't be long" through December 31.
The two heads of state and government have intensified their contact over the past few weeks with telephone calls on December 17th and 13th and a personal dinner on December 9th in Brussels.
There is growing optimism that in the coming days, after signs of movement in the fisheries sector, the UK and the bloc could strike a trade deal that is now seen as a major stumbling block to an agreement.
Mr Barnier's comments came after it was discovered that Boris Johnson and EU leader Ursula von der Leyen had made a secret Brexit call last night
Sources said Mr. Johnson and Mrs. von der Leyen spoke "from time to time as it won't be long" until December 31st
Before giving the EU ambassadors a briefing on the talks, Barnier said: “We are really at a crucial moment and we are giving it a final boost.
"In 10 days the UK will leave the single market and I will continue to work transparently with the Member States and the (European) Parliament."
The UK is said to have tabled a last-minute compromise that would cut its catch in UK waters by around a third over a transitional period of five years.
That would be a lot more generous than the UK's original offer to save 60 percent over three years.
However, the EU reportedly is still sticking to a no more than 25 percent cut, which it plans to distribute over a seven year period after entering negotiations by offering only an 18 percent cut over a decade.
An EU official told The Telegraph, "It's still a no from us," while a UK government source denied and insisted on Bloomberg's first-reported proposal that it would accept a one-third cut "It's not the offer and the EU still is." Miles away from what we need & # 39 ;.
While the two sides are still separated on this issue, the fact that there seems to be some movement now should rekindle hopes for an agreement and ratification of an agreement by December 31st.
Mr Barnier continues to negotiate with his UK counterpart, Lord Frost, with fisheries and the so-called 'level playing field' setting the remaining points of contention.
Any agreement would have to be voted on by both the European and UK parliaments before it can come into force.
The UK Parliament is now on Christmas break but ministers have warned MPs that if there is a deal they will be called back to vote.
The ministers are to work out a plan according to which the deal is said to have failed in a single day, probably December 30th, by the House of Commons and the Lords.
That would then give the UK December 31st to pass secondary legislation to resolve any outstanding issues.
The heads of the European Parliament had set a deadline for the agreement last Sunday, as MEPs had also warned that they would not have enough time to examine an agreement and vote on it.
The UK reportedly offered a last minute compromise on fishing rights to break the deadlock
MEPs have now asked for contingency plans to be drawn up by Thursday for what the European Parliament will do if negotiations drag on until the end of the transition period.
If the two sides fail to sign a trade deal, they will start trading on basic World Trade Organization terms from January 1, which means tariffs will be imposed on goods.
Downing Street yesterday turned down calls to request an extension of the transition period as more and more calls were required to postpone the speaking period because of the border chaos caused by a new mutant strain of coronavirus.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly stated that he is ready to part with the bloc without a trade deal.
Speaking at a press conference on Downing Street last night, he said: “The case remains that WTO terms are more than satisfactory for Britain and we can certainly face any difficulties that come our way.
“Not that we don't want a deal, but the WTO terms would be perfectly satisfactory. Prosper remains an extremely good description of life after January 1st in both cases. & # 39;
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