Reuters, LONDON and BRUSSELS
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was yesterday to speak to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to try to break an impasse in trade talks, with time running out to avoid a chaotic end to the Brexit saga.
The UK left the EU on Jan. 31, but rules governing trade, travel and business have remained unchanged during a transition period that ends on Dec. 31, when a new relationship is to be established — with or without a deal.
The talks between Johnson and Von der Leyen could provide the political impetus to move the sides closer to bridging their substantial differences, or highlight how the “red lines” on both sides mean a deal remains out of reach.
If the two sides fail to reach a deal, the five-year Brexit divorce would end messily just as the UK and Europe grapple with the vast economic cost of the COVID-19 pandemic.
British and EU negotiators on Friday paused trade talks to call in their leaders to try to narrow the gaps and get an agreement after a week of negotiations failed to bridge significant divergences between the two sides.
“We keep calm, as always, and if there is still a way, we will see,” EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told broadcasters in London as he left for Brussels.
Johnson was expected to speak to Barnier’s British counterpart, David Frost, and other officials yesterday morning, ahead of the Von der Leyen call.
The pause in talks on Friday was the latest twist in months of negotiations, which have barely moved on the three thorniest issues — fisheries, ensuring fair competition guarantees and ways to solve future disputes.
Sources from both sides said that French demands over fishing rights in British waters remained a key issue.
However, one EU diplomat said that French President Emmanuel Macron was not the only one with reservations, and several member states had also raised concerns over how far Barnier had moved on competition issues, known as the level playing field.
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