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‘Crucial moment’: Hopes of an imminent Brexit trade deal drive sterling higher

LONDON — Sterling has continued its move higher on reports that a long-awaited Brexit trade deal between Britain and the European Union is close.

The BBC reported Thursday that U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to speak to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at around 7 a.m. GMT, with a press conference slated for an hour later.

Sterling was trading around 0.45% higher against the dollar at 1.355 Thursday morning, while the FTSE 100 looked set to open the day higher.

It comes after officials on both sides said on Wednesday that they were optimistic about the chances of a deal, but some issues remained. Reuters, citing an anonymous source, reported that a trade deal was “imminent,” although CNBC could not independently verify this.

Meanwhile, EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier said Tuesday that the bloc was making a “final push” to strike a Brexit trade deal with Britain ahead of Dec. 31.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) is welcomed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (R) in the Berlaymont building at the EU headquarters in Brussels on December 9, 2020.


“We are really in a crucial moment,” Barnier told reporters on his way to brief 27 ambassadors. “We are giving it a final push. In 10 days, the U.K. … will leave the single market.”

The yields on U.K. and U.S. government bonds rose late afternoon London time Wednesday on hopes of a deal. The U.K. 10-year yield rose by 11 basis points to 0.302% — its biggest rise in six weeks — while U.S. 10-year yield jumped 5 basis points to trade around 0.9646%. Bond yields move inversely to prices.

Stumbling blocks

A deal has remained elusive in recent weeks because of strong disagreements over fishing rights, and several other issues.

The EU wants to maintain access to U.K. waters for its fishing fleets, while the U.K. wants to largely curb these fishing rights. A no-deal scenario could see EU access to U.K. waters end abruptly, and vice versa, and the U.K. has already threatened to deploy gunboats to protect British waters.

There are concerns that some fishing fleets could ignore any restrictions, leading to potential clashes. These are not unheard of; there have been physical skirmishes, dubbed the “Scallop wars,” between British and French fishing fleets in recent years amid disputes over fishing.

If Britain and the EU fail to agree on a deal by Dec. 31 then both sides could impose border checks and import taxes on each other’s goods, as trade will revert to World Trade Organization terms. This could lead to price changes in supermarkets and shops.

Britain officially left the European Union on Jan 31., 2020, however leaders were given 11 months to agree on the rules that will dictate life for the U.K. and Europe after Brexit.

— CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt contributed to this article.

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