There is still no breakthrough on a post-Brexit trade deal and negotiators have been instructed to continue with talks.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen have said that although deadlines have been repeatedly missed, they believe it is “responsible” to go the “extra mile”.
After months of stop-start talks during which 98% of the substance of a trade deal is said to have been agreed, there remains differences on the three thorniest issues – fisheries, ensuring economic fair play, and resolving future disputes.
The politically-charged issue of fishing is of great symbolic significance to maritime nations, such as the UK and France.
EU countries want their boats to be able to keep fishing in British waters after the end of the transition period on 31 December.
But the UK argues as an independent coastal state it should be able to prioritise its own boats and control access and quotas.
However, most fish caught by UK fishermen are sold in Europe, and Britain needs to maintain access to EU markets to be able to do that.
France, which is seen by many on the UK side as the EU nation most resistant to compromise, has threatened to veto any deal.
Various EU and independent commentators have said that, because fishing accounts for such a small proportion of the UK economy, they see little reason why it should remain a stumbling block if the political will for a deal is there.
Fair competition guarantees
Serious issues remain over the so-called level playing field to ensure businesses on one side do not gain an unfair advantage over those on the other side.
In return for continuing access to the single market, the EU is seeking a high degree of future alignment by the UK with its standards on workers rights, the environment and particularly state aid for businesses.
Brussels wants to safeguard against the UK becoming a low-regulation economic rival on the bloc’s doorstep.
The British deny they want to undercut the EU, but argue the whole point of Brexit was about “taking back control” and being free to set its own standards, and so has resisted curbs on its freedom to set future economic policies.
Mr Johnson said: “Our friends in the EU are currently insisting that if they pass a new law in the future with which we in this country do not comply or don’t follow suit, then they want the automatic right to punish us and to retaliate.”
The issue has left many independent commentators struggling to understand why a deal cannot be struck as many have pointed out the UK has no desire to undercut the EU, and in many cases, has tougher standards than the bloc.
Again, observers have said that if the political will is in place, conditions could exist for a deal to be struck.
The two sides remain at loggerheads over the mechanisms for enforcing any agreement and resolving future disputes.
The UK has insisted as an independent sovereign nation it cannot accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
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