As Portugal prepares to take over the presidency of the Council of the European Union while the Brexit talks continue to drag on, Prime Minister António Costa says the political will still exists for a trade deal, but the remaining differences between the UK and the EU should not be underestimated.
Costa has warned against UK attempts to negotiate directly on the side with a few of the 27 EU national leaders.
He is hoping some sort of deal can be agreed in the coming days.
“For everyone the absence of a deal will be very bad, very bad particularly for neighbouring countries,” Costa said.
He added: “We are on the last dossier. I don’t want to underestimate its significance and its difficulty. We won’t do a deal at any price.”
Any deal will have to be approved by all of the EU’s member states. France in particular is thought likely to veto any deal in which Britain does not offer a compromise on fishing rights.
Costa criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempts to negotiate bilaterally with a few leaders.
He has emphasised that it was very important for all the 27 EU states to remain united under the negotiation leadership of Michel Barnier representing the EU Commission.
Barnier has reportedly said privately in Brussels that the tortuous trade talks could collapse, but for now “the patient is still alive”.
Barnier is also reported to have said: “There might now be a narrow path to an agreement visible – if negotiators can clear the remaining hurdles in the next few days.”
On 1st January 2021, Portugal will take over the presidency of the EU Council from Germany until the end of June, a period of crucial importance for decisions on climate change and Covid-19 as well as Brexit.