Boris Johnson has urged the European Union to be “common-sensical”, insisting that a post-Brexit trade deal was within grasp.
Following the final scheduled round of formal negotiations in Brussels, the Prime Minister will take stock of progress in a conference call with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday.
Ahead of their talks, Mr Johnson said there was “every chance” that an agreement could be reached while Mrs von der Leyen said it was time to “intensify” the negotiations.
The announcement of the video conference between the two leaders prompted speculation they could be preparing to launch a final series of intensive talks – dubbed “the tunnel” – in a last push for an agreement.
In a series of regional broadcast interviews, Mr Johnson told BBC Midlands there was “every chance to get a deal”, adding: “It’s up to our friends and partners to be common-sensical.”
Speaking to BBC Northern Ireland, he added: “They’ve done a deal with Canada of a kind that we want, why shouldn’t they do it with us? We’re so near, we’ve been members for 45 years. It’s all there, it’s just up to them.”
Speaking at a news conference in the Belgian capital, Mrs von der Leyen said she believed a deal was still possible but warned that time was running out.
She said the “most difficult issues” – including fisheries and state aid rules – still had to be resolved if they were to get an agreement in place by the end of the Brexit transition period at the end of the year.
“It is good to have a deal – but not at any price,” she said.
“We have made progress on many, many different fields but of course the most difficult ones are still completely open.
“But overall, where there is a will, there is a way, so I think we should intensify the negotiations because it is worth working hard on it.
Here is the UK statement about the state of play in our negotiations with the EU after the ninth round of talks. https://t.co/2wXSZeKgJW
— David Frost (@DavidGHFrost) October 2, 2020
“We are running out of time – around 100 days to the end of the year – so it is worth stepping up now.”
Downing Street made clear Mr Johnson still believed there needed to be a deal by the time of the next EU summit in two weeks’ time on October 15, otherwise it will be too late to implement before the transition ends.
But despite his bullish comments, the UK’s chief negotiator Lord Frost was more downbeat, saying that while the “outlines” of an agreement were “visible”, there were still “familiar differences” to be overcome.
Following his latest meeting with EU counterpart Michel Barnier, he said there had been “some limited progress” on state aid while the gap over fisheries was “unfortunately very large” and may prove “impossible to bridge”.
🇪🇺🇬🇧 We will continue to maintain a calm and respectful attitude & we will remain united and determined until the end of these negotiations.
My statement following this week’s round of negotiations: https://t.co/gUhAP9Zu4g
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) October 2, 2020
“These issues are fundamental to our future status as an independent country,” he said in a statement.
“I am concerned that there is very little time now to resolve these issues ahead of the European Council on October 15.”
Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin, who briefed other EU leaders with Mrs von der Leyen on the state of the negotiations, said it was “highly unlikely” there would be an agreement by October 15, although there would need to be significant progress in the coming weeks.
“Certainly by the end of the month, the beginning of next month, there would have to be some clear pathway to an agreement in order to facilitate all the work that will then be necessary to get a deal over the line,” he said.
He added: “There is a sense whilst there is a mood to engage, no-one is underestimating the task that lies ahead.”