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Business briefing: EU ‘willing to keep talking’ as sides inch to Brexit deal

‘Final push’: EU’s Michel Barnier (left) warned colleagues differences remain PICTURE: GETTY

BREXIT trade talks could drag on into 2021 — but the UK and EU are inching towards a deal, sources have claimed.

Diplomats insisted that Brussels was willing to keep talking up to New Year’s Eve and beyond, even after Britain’s transition period ends on January 1, but said both sides were keen to wrap up an agreement by Christmas Eve if possible.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters talks were in their final stages as he arrived in Brussels last night to update the bloc’s 27 national envoys.

‘We are really in a crucial moment. We are giving it a final push,’ he said.

But Mr Barnier later told the closed-door gathering that differences over fishing remained, and that the UK’s latest offer on sharing out the catch from 2021 was ‘totally unacceptable’.

He also reportedly said that EU negotiators were prepared to keep talks going indefinitely until an agreement was reached, with neither side apparently willing to pull out. This is despite officials warning it may now be too late for any deal to come into force in time, even if one is agreed before the new year.

The Confederation of British Industry told the BBC that even if a last-gasp deal is struck it would not be enough to avoid further problems at borders. A spokesman said that ‘final preparations are currently impossible for most businesses (and) disruption is now inevitable’.

Earlier, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson reportedly held at least two unscheduled phone calls in an attempt to break the deadlock.

At a press conference on Monday, Mr Johnson insisted the UK will thrive even if a deal is not reached. He said: ‘It’s vital that everyone understands that we’ve got to be able to control our own laws and our own fisheries… and we can certainly cope with any difficulties thrown in our way. Not that we don’t want a deal.’

Economy ‘bounced back faster than expected’

THE economy recovered from the coronavirus crash faster than thought in the last quarter.

Gross domestic product grew by a record 16 per cent from July to September, up from a previous estimate of 15.5 per cent, figures show. This did not make up for a 18.8 per cent slump during the lockdown in the second quarter.

Capital Economics, a consultancy, said a double-dip recession was a clear possibility if the latest Covid-19 restrictions continue into 2021. The UK borrowed a record £241billion in the first eight months of 2020.

Faced with tax rises, chancellor Rishi Sunak said: ‘When our economy recovers, it’s right we take the necessary steps.’

MPs demand NS&I explain soaring customer complaints

SAVINGS giant NS&I is being asked by MPs to explain a string of complaints. The Treasury-backed institution has seen consumer satisfaction dive and a 43 per cent rise in complaints after ‘dramatic cuts’ to saving products and a decision to stop paying Premium Bond winners with warrants. Mel Stride, the Treasury Committee head, said its actions ‘caused a great deal of anxiety’.

BUSINESS BITES

■ EASYJET has agreed a deal to delay delivery of 22 new planes from Airbus. The airline’s shares rose after it said the aircraft would arrive between 2027 and 2028, instead of from 2022 to 2024, allowing it to defer payment.

■ DFS Furniture has seen online sales soar by more than three-quarters. The retailer, which has shut 52 stores in Tier 4 areas, was up 76 per cent online in the 24 weeks to December 13 compared with 2019.

■ SALES of Walkers crisps, Doritos and Pringles have soared amid the pandemic. The ‘bagged snacks’ category is up £113million year-on-year as shoppers take comfort in trusted brands, reports The Grocer.

■ SALES of Aldi’s Kevin and Katie the Carrot toys raised £27,000 for NHS Charities Together and the Teenage Cancer Trust. Almost 11,000 bids were placed on eBay for the medic-themed soft toys. One bidder pledged £142.

■ MORE than 800,000 private renters in England and Wales — about one in 14 — are in arrears since the first lockdown, the National Residential Landlords Association says. Average debt is between £250 to £500.