(CN) — The United Kingdom and the European Union on Sunday said they would continue last-ditch negotiations to agree on a trade deal before Britain leaves the EU on the New Year for good.
Earlier in the week the two sides set Sunday as a deadline by which they would announce whether a deal could be done. Major differences remain and both sides say the prospect that the U.K. will leave the EU without a deal has become a strong possibility.
A so-called no-deal Brexit is expected to cause major economic, political and social damage to both sides, though the U.K. stands to lose a lot more, at least initially.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his hard-core pro-Brexit Conservatives have placed their country’s independence from the EU and its laws over the economic harm caused by not agreeing to sign up to an EU trade deal that ties the U.K. to EU rules and laws.
For its part, the EU doesn’t want to give the U.K. a trade agreement that rewards British businesses with a competitive edge. Therefore, to prevent that, the EU is demanding the U.K. abide by EU rules and standards if it wants a deal.
In a joint statement, Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said they would “go the extra mile” and continue talks. They spoke by telephone in the morning.
“Our negotiating teams have been working day and night over recent days,” the statement said. “And despite the exhaustion after almost a year of negotiations, despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over we think it is responsible at this point to go the extra mile.”
Unless a deal is reached before the end of the year, the U.K. and the EU will resort to trading on World Trade Organization terms and that will mean tariffs and customs checks would be imposed. Already, the U.K. has suffered a major hit after businesses and corporations moved their activities to the EU.
In an interview with Sky News, Johnson said a deal remained unlikely.
“I’m afraid we’re still very far apart on some key things,” he said.
He said Brits should not be concerned about the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal. “Don’t forget everybody, we’ve made huge preparations for this.”
With the risk of tariffs approaching, British companies have been stockpiling and that’s led to heavy delays and long lines of trucks at English Channel crossings. There are concerns over price rises, a shortage in goods, interrupted travel and many other disruptions if the U.K. leaves without a deal.
In July 2016, 52% of British voters chose to leave the EU in a referendum. Most of the support for Brexit came from English voters while majorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland opted to stay in the EU.
Now, an independence drive has picked up steam in Scotland and polls show a majority of Scots want to break away from the U.K. and rejoin the EU.
Brexit has caused major problems in Northern Ireland too. To prevent a new border popping up between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and potentially reigniting sectarian violence there, Johnson has agreed to treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the U.K. and keep it tied to EU rules and laws.
That solution though has enraged Protestants in Northern Ireland who feel that they were betrayed by Johnson after he’d pledged to never allow a border to run down the Irish Sea, which is the effect of Johnson’s Brexit strategy to extirpate the EU’s influence over the U.K.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.