Politics

BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg admits ‘we have now passed point where trade deal could be done’

Brexit: UK 'absolutely ready' for no deal scenario says Hancock

The admission by the Beeb’s political editor comes as the Prime Minister appeared defiant in his confidence that the UK would prosper under a no-deal, while saying he still favours a deal. Having missed several deadlines, the negotiations continued in Brussels on Monday as Lord Frost and Michel Barnier work towards bridging the remaining gaps on fisheries and the level playing field.

Ms Kuenssberg said there is not any hope left of the UK and the EU signing a deal before Christmas Day, which falls on Friday.

She said: “The UK and the EU have been moving towards a vital trade deal for months, but the last mile is proving the hardest.

“In the past fortnight, there have been a couple of moments when it’s seemed that pens were poised to sign, but clashes of principle have kept agreement just out of reach.

“We have now passed the point where a trade deal could be done and pushed through Parliament before Christmas.”

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She added: “There are even suggestions it could be finalised on Christmas Eve, then rushed through just before New Year.”

MPs are on their Christmas and New Year break until January 5.

But Parliament could be recalled at short notice for a vote if the UK strikes a trade pact with Brussels.

Lawmakers have been put on standby and warned they should expect to be called back into work.

Due to the tight Brexit deadline and the emergence of a new strain of Covid, which has caused more than 40 nations to ban travel from the UK, the prime minister is facing calls to extend the Brexit transition period.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and London Mayor Sadiq Khan led calls for the deadline to be extended while the Government battled the spread of the new coronavirus variant.

But Downing Street rejected the call and dismissed the idea of a temporary “standstill” period maintaining current arrangements beyond the end of the year.

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And Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also declined to back calls for an extension, instead urging the Prime Minister to strike a deal with Brussels.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said “time is obviously in very short supply” to get a deal done and ratified by January 1 with the UK prepared for World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms if there is no agreement with the EU.

He added: “We will need to ratify any agreement ahead of January 1.

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“The Leader of the House made clear that we would recall Parliament in order to give MPs a vote on the necessary legislation.”

Asked if there could be a “standstill” agreement to maintain current arrangements until a deal is in place, the spokesman said: “We have been clear on this point that we will either leave the transition period on December 31 with a free-trade agreement or we will leave with Australia-style WTO terms. That remains the case.”

Meanwhile a Conservative MP on Monday called for the recalling of Parliament to allow for a debate on the cancelling of Christmas celebrations for millions of Britons.

Mark Harper said MPs need to “hold ministers to account” for the Government’s decision to bolster Covid-19 restrictions ahead of Christmas.

Mr Harper is a former Conservative chief whip and chairman of the Covid Recovery Group.

In a tweet, Mr Harper said: “The developing serious situation arising from the Government’s announcement yesterday reinforces why Parliament should be recalled to debate these matters and hold ministers to account on behalf of our constituents.”

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