Britain and the European Union were on the cusp of striking a narrow trade deal on Thursday, swerving away from a chaotic finale to a Brexit split that has shaken the 70-year project to forge European unity from the ruins of World War Two.
While a last-minute deal would avoid the most acrimonious ending to the Brexit divorce, the United Kingdom is heading for a much more distant relationship with its biggest trade partner than almost anyone expected at the time of the 2016 Brexit vote.
Sources in London and Brussels said a deal was close as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a late-night conference call with his senior ministers, and negotiators in Brussels pored over reams of legal texts.There was no official confirmation of a deal but Johnson was expected to hold a news conference – just seven days before the UK turns its back on the EU’s single market and customs union at 2300 GMT on Dec. 31.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said a late snag related to fishing had delayed the agreement, but that an announcement was expected later on Thursday.”There is some sort of last-minute hitch” related to “small text” of a fisheries agreement, Coveney told Ireland’s RTE radio after weeks of haggling over just how much fish EU boats should be able to catch in British waters.”I had hoped to be talking to you this morning in parallel with big announcements happening in both London and Brussels, but we still expect those later on today.”
News that a deal was imminent, first reported by Reuters on Wednesday, triggered a 1.4% surge in the pound against.