Brexit trade talks are stuck on fishing, governance rules, and dispute resolution because the European Union is asking too much of Britain, a senior member of the British government said on Tuesday.
Just 30 days before Britain leaves the EU's orbit following a transition period since it formally quit the bloc, the sides are trying to agree on a trade deal to avoid a turbulent rupture that could snarl at almost $1 trillion in annual trade.
With each side urging the other to compromise, a French official said Britain must clarify its positions and 'really negotiate', and cautioned that the EU would not accept a 'substandard deal'.
A Narrow Deal
Even if a trade accord is secured, it is likely to be just a narrow deal on goods, and some disruption is almost certain as border controls are erected between the world's biggest trading block and Britain.
Talks have snagged on fishing in Britain's rich waters, on what EU rules London will accept and on how any dispute might be resolved.
"The EU still wants to take the lion's share of the fishing in our waters - which is just not fair given that we are leaving the EU," Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and a senior ally of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, told Sky.
"The EU still want us to be tied to their way of doing things," Gove said. "The EU is at the moment reserving the right, if there is any sort of dispute, not quite to rip everything up but to impose some really penal and tough restrictions on us, and we don't think that's fair."
A trade deal would not only safeguard trade but also buttress peace in British-ruled Northern Ireland, though some disruption is almost certain at the busiest EU-UK border points.
Failure to secure a deal would snarl borders, spook financial markets and disrupt delicate supply chains that stretch across Europe and beyond -just as the world grapples with the vast economic cost of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Gove said the process was close to conclusion but avoided repeating an earlier prediction of a 66% probability of a deal. He declined to put a figure on the probability.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe's most powerful national leader, has said some of the EU's 27 member states are getting impatient.
"The priority is for the British to clarify their positions and really negotiate to find a deal," a French presidency official told Reuters. "The EU also has interests to fight for, those of a fair competition for its businesses and those of its fishermen."
"The Union has made a clear and balanced offer for a future partnership with Britain. We will not accept a substandard deal which would not respect our own interests," the official said.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin said a deal could be done this week.
"There is a landing zone for an agreement," Martin told the Irish Times in an interview. "We are now really in the endgame if a deal is to arrive at this week."