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UK chief Brexit negotiator insists deal can still be agreed as clock ticks down

Aaron Chown

By Shaun Connolly, PA Political Correspondent

A Brexit deal is still possible, the UK’s chief negotiator has insisted as face-to-face negotiations are set to resume with the clock ticking down to an agreement deadline.

But Lord Frost warned that a deal is only possible if Brussels recognised British sovereignty in key areas.

Lord Frost was speaking ahead of face-to-face talks, which he said would take place on Saturday.

He tweeted: “Some people are asking me why we are still talking. My answer is that it’s my job to do my utmost to see if the conditions for a deal exist. It is late, but a deal is still possible, and I will continue to talk until it’s clear that it isn’t.

“But for a deal to be possible it must fully respect UK sovereignty. That is not just a word – it has practical consequences. That includes: controlling our borders; deciding ourselves on a robust and principled subsidy control system; and controlling our fishing waters.

“We look to reach an agreement on this basis, allowing the new beginning to our relationship with the EU which, for our part, we have always wanted. We will continue to work hard to get it – because an agreement on any other basis is not possible.”

The comments came after EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned that “significant divergences” still remain ahead of the UK exiting the Brexit transition period at the end of December.

In-person negotiations in Brussels were suspended a week ago after a member of Mr Barnier’s team contracted coronavirus.

But Mr Barnier has now said “physical negotiations” can resume.

He is briefing EU member states ahead of talks with Lord Frost as areas such as fishing rights remain major obstacles to a deal before the Brexit transition period expires at the end of next month.

Mr Barnier tweeted on Friday: “In line with Belgian rules, my team and I are no longer in quarantine. Physical negotiations can continue.

“I am briefing Member States & @Europarl_EN today. Same significant divergences persist. Travelling to London this evening to continue talks w/ @DavidGHFrost + team.”

Prior to Mr Barnier’s announcement there had been uncertainty about when the face-to-face talks would resume amid reports that the EU chief negotiator would only head to London if there was a significant shift in the UK’s position.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “They will resume face-to-face talks from tomorrow (Saturday). Talks will continue to take place on a daily basis. At this late stage a deal is still possible and we are working to achieve one.”

Previously, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman has said Boris Johnson believes the UK would “thrive” with or without an EU deal as talks continued at a virtual level.

The comments came after the Office for Budget Responsibility said that failure to reach an agreement with Brussels could result in a 2% hit to gross domestic product, the standard measure of the size and health of a nation’s economy.

The UK will leave the single market and customs union at the end of December.

Negotiations have been deadlocked for months over the issues of fishing rights, the governance of any deal, and the “level playing field” conditions aimed at preventing unfair competition by cutting standards or increasing state subsidies.

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