The UK and the EU focused on a fisheries compromise on Monday to repeal a Brexit trade deal as Boris Johnson sought a final parliamentary vote on an agreement on Dec. 30.
Raoul Ruparel, a former Europe adviser to ex-Prime Minister Theresa May, who remains well connected in Whitehall, suggested that the EU and the UK could find a solution to an open problem that is holding back an agreement: the bloc's fishing rights in British waters after Brexit.
The Prime Minister's allies, meanwhile, said any trade deal now struck would likely have to be voted on by MPs and colleagues between Christmas and New Years, with an emergency parliamentary session planned.
British negotiator David Frost and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier are haggling over cuts in fishing quotas for EU boats used in UK waters after Brexit and a transition period for the industry.
In an article for Politico, Ruparel suggested that a compromise on fisheries could result in EU rights in UK waters – currently valued at around EUR 650 million per year – by 35 over a five-year transition period Percent will be cut.
The EU has in recent days offered a 25 percent cut over a six-year transition – a proposal that France is deeply dissatisfied with and that has outraged the bloc's fishing industry.
Several people close to the EU talks said they understood that the UK's current position on quotas and the transition was close to Mr Ruparel's proposal.
British officials denied that Britain had made a new offer in the manner suggested by Mr Ruparel, saying only that the two sides were "far apart" and the negotiations were "brutally complicated".
Mr Ruparel also proposed a mechanism to address EU concerns about what should happen to fisheries after the transitional period if the UK insisted on further major quota cuts: the possibility of the bloc levying tariffs to offset any economic losses, taking these costs from a court of arbitration.
In extreme cases, the EU could withdraw from any trade agreement that contained a termination clause.
Mr Barnier said last week that a system was needed to link future EU fishing rights in UK waters to UK access to the bloc's internal market, saying it was a matter of fairness.
The spokesman for Mr Johnson said that "significant differences" remained between the two sides, with fishing and the so-called level playing field for fair business competition as the outstanding issues.
But the atmosphere appeared to be improving on Monday after Mr Johnson had an "excellent conversation" with French President Emmanuel Macron.
The two heads of state and government did not discuss the talks – Mr Johnson accepted that the European Commission was leading the negotiations for the EU – but rather Mr Macron's offer to help resume freight traffic between Dover and Calais after the French government opened them on The -19 variant in Great Britain was rated as positive in London on Monday because of the latest Covid.
The apparent evolution of both sides' positions on fisheries marks a significant shift.
Last month, the EU maintained its position that it would not sacrifice more than 18 percent of its rights in British waters, while Britain wanted to confiscate 80 percent of them.
If a trade deal is made in the coming days, legislation enshrining the deal in UK law is likely to pass through Parliament with limited scrutiny.
Government insiders said December 30th is now the “most likely” date for an agreement in parliament: the day before the end of the transition.
The European Parliament has ruled out a vote to ratify an agreement before the end of the year after a Sunday deadline for an agreement. Brussels is currently examining the legal possibility of "provisional application" of an agreement before a ratification vote.
Mr Johnson is under pressure from politicians such as Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon to seek an extension of the transition. However, he refused to take such a move, which EU officials warned about the need to negotiate a new international treaty that would have to be ratified in all member states.