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EU and UK within touching distance of trade deal

trade deal

Sources in the UK and the EU said the long negotiations were in their final stretch

European Union and British negotiators inched their way to within touching distance of a trade deal early Thursday, raising hopes a chaotic economic break between the two sides on New Year’s Day could be averted, officials said.

After resolving a few remaining fair-competition issues, negotiators tussled over EU fishing rights in U.K. waters as they worked right into Christmas Eve to secure a provisional deal for a post-Brexit relationship after nine months of talks.

Sources on both sides said the long and difficult negotiations were in their final stretch as negotiators went into another night, living off a stack of pizzas delivered to EU headquarters while they were combing through the fine print of a draft deal that runs to some 2,000 pages.

Work will continue throughout the night, said EU spokesman Eric Mamer.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a Cabinet conference call to brief his senior ministers on the outlines of the deal, ahead of an announcement widely expected later Thursday.

Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are likely to bring news of an agreement before the tentative deal goes to the 27 EU capitals seeking unanimous approval and the approval of the EU and British parliaments.

No matter what happens, trade between Britain and the EU will face customs checks and some other barriers on Jan. 1, when the U.K. leaves the bloc’s single market and customs union. A trade deal would avert the imposition of tariffs and duties that could cost both sides billions in trade and hundreds of thousands of jobs. Britain withdrew from the EU on Jan. 31, and an economic transition period expires on Dec. 31.

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