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Brexit trade bill will be ‘rushed through’ Parliament if eleventh-hour deal with EU is agreed

Civil servants have started planning legislation for a Brexit deal that will need to be rushed through the Commons and Lords at “breakneck pace”.

A team of officials from the Cabinet Office are working on the future relationship bill, which will enshrine any Brexit agreement in domestic law.

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One Whitehall source told The Times: “There’s increasing expectation of a deal.

“We need to be ready to get it through parliament.”

Ministers discussed having weekend sittings in the Lords to ensure the deal can be passed by the end of the month, however talks were temporarily disrupted this week after a member of EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier‘s team caught coronavirus.

Better progress

European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen (online) during a news briefing ahead of G20 meeting in Saudi Arabia, in Brussels, Belgium November 20, 2020. (Photo: Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS)

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, minimized the extent to which there would be delays caused by Mr Barnier’s need to quarantine.

She said that the negotiations were making progress, albeit slowly, adding: “After difficult weeks with very, very slow progress, now we have seen in the last days better progress, more movement on important files. This is good.

“There is now substance where you can go through . . . word for word.”

Whilst more than 90 per cent of a draft legal text is complete, there are still several square brackets surrounding clauses where issues such as road haulage or energy are dependent on a wider deal, where political agreement is yet to be reached.

A possible breakthrough

The closeness means that work on a deal can continue over the coming weeks, even if Mr Barnier and Lord Frost, the prime minister’s chief negotiator, are unable to see each other face to face.

The week beginning November 30 is seen as the first possible date that a breakthrough could happen, with Mr Barnier able to meet Lord Frost again.

However, a new issue is an unconventional EU demand for a review of new fishing quotas after ten years, which will be linked to the wider trade deal, and could lead to a repeat fisheries negotiation or crisis in 2030.

Caption: Workers unload fish at the outcry of the port of Roscoff, western France on November 12, 2020. (Photo: Fred TANNEAU / AFP)

President of France, Emmanuel Macron, will not agree to a Brexit trade, security and fisheries deal unless it has first been translated into French.

Yet there is not much time remaining for Brussels to adhere to the normal procedure of translating an agreement in principle, which could exceed 600 pages with hundreds of annexes in all 24 of the EU’s languages.

An EU only deal

The next step would normally be for EU leaders to agree the treaty before it is passed to the European parliament for consent from MEPs.

Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen, secretary-general of the European Council, warned ambassadors that if talks go to the wire a breakneck procedure for Europe’s leaders to sign off a deal means that “not all language versions will be ready”.

Philippe Léglise-Costa, the French permanent representative, reacted angrily to this news, and said France would not dream of signing off a deal if it was only available in English.

Multiple countries are now requesting enough time to scrutinise the draft text.

The draft agreement, a framework treaty of trade, security and fishing deals, is expected to be an “EU only” deal, so it will not need to be ratified in national parliaments or by MEPS, with many countries now unhappy that they may not be consulted properly.