Talks on a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU are at a “critical phase” as they go down to the wire in London.
Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier did not head back home on Friday morning as some expected, and a briefing he was meant to hold for EU diplomats was cancelled.
He was tight-lipped as he headed back in for a fresh day of discussions, only telling reporters it was an “important day”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deputy spokesman admitted that “time is in very short supply” and “we’re at a very difficult point in the talks”.
Conversations have dragged on late into the evening several times this week, with sandwiches and takeaways seen being delivered.
The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020 – but is in a “transition period” for the rest of the year and has followed many of the same rules and held on to the benefits of membership apart from political representation.
That was designed to limit disruption, so citizens and businesses only had to prepare for one change on 1 January 2021.
But both sides said they wanted these negotiations over by mid-October and constant talk of a pressing deadline has seen discussions pushed closer to the cliff edge.