U.K.’s Patel on Brexit: We’re in ‘Tunnel’ of Negotiations

LONDON (Reuters) -
European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters, where Brexit talks are taking place, in Brussels, Belgium, Sunday. (Reuters/Yves Herman)

The United Kingdom will work flat out for a Brexit trade deal and the two sides are in “tunnel” negotiations, but if a deal with the European Union is not possible then the country will be prepared, Interior Minister Priti Patel said on Thursday.

“First of all, the prime minister and the government, we’ve all been very clear we are not walking away, we will continue to negotiate to get this free-trade agreement,” Patel told LBC radio.

“We are in that tunnel of negotiation and our teams continue to work incredibly hard,” said Patel, whose official title is Home Secretary.

The “tunnel” is a term for an intense final stage of secretive, make-or-break negotiations.

Patel said negotiators were working “flat out” to secure a deal, but the government was very clear it would not compromise the country’s independence or sovereignty.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that the two sides had moved closer to clinching a trade deal.

“I cannot tell you whether there will be a deal or not. But I can tell you that there is a path to an agreement now. The path may be very narrow but it is there,” von der Leyen told the European Parliament.

Britain formally left the EU on Jan. 31 but has been in a transition period since then under which rules on trade, travel and business remain unchanged. It finally exits the bloc’s single market and customs union on Dec. 31.

Failure to agree a deal would erect trade barriers between the EU and Britain, snarl borders, send shockwaves through financial markets and cause chaos in supply chains across Europe as it also struggles with COVID-19.