Boris Johnson and Brussels president Ursula von der Leyen set for face-to-face Brexit talks as deadline looms
The Prime Minister and Mrs von der Leyen spoke on the telephone and agreed to ask their chief negotiators to prepare an overview of the “remaining differences”.
The leaders will then discuss them in person in a physical meeting in Brussels “in the coming days” in the hope of agreeing the terms of the UK’s trading arragements with the European Union by December 31.
If there is no deal by the end of the Brexit transition period at the end of the month, then Britain will leave the single market and the customs union and begin trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms, with the imposition of tariffs and quotas on goods and services flowing between Europe and the UK.
Failure to reach a deal would add additional barriers and tariffs, and the Office for Budget Responsibility has warned the disruption could wipe two per cent off gross domestic product - the standard measure of the size of the economy - in 2021.
UK sources said “no tangible progress” had been made during recent negotiations, which were now looking “very tricky”.
In a joint statement last night, the two leaders said they had taken “stock of the ongoing negotiations”. They said: “We agreed that the conditions for finalising an agreement are not there, due to the remaining significant differences on three critical issues: level playing field, governance and fisheries.
“We asked our chief negotiators and their teams to prepare an overview of the remaining differences to be discussed in a physical meeting in Brussels in the coming days.”
Their second call in a little over 48 hours came after Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart Lord Frost spent the day talking in Brussels.
The negotiators spent the last week talking in London, but failed to break the deadlock. Downing Street said it was prepared to continue talks for “as long as we have time available”, though admitted time was in “very short supply”.
The comments appeared to be at odds with the EU’s chief negotiator Mr Barnier, who reportedly told MEPs the deadline for talks succeeding is Wednesday.
In an olive branch, the Government said it was prepared to remove three controversial clauses from the UK Internal Market Bill relating to the Irish border. The Bill sets out the way that trade within the UK will work once it is outside the EU’s single market and customs union.
It initially contained sections which enabled ministers to override the Brexit divorce deal, thereby breaching international law, in a bid to protect the relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Peers went on to inflict a series of heavy defeats on the Government to remove the clauses, but MPs were expected to reinstate them during votes last night.
Labour’s Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said the development showed Boris Johnson was beginning his “climbdown” over the controversial powers.
But the Doncaster MP warned people not to take the Prime Minister’s commitment on the issue for granted, given his Government’s “word is not their bond” and it has shown a willingness to “rip up” international law.
Any Brexit deal would have to be ratified by both Houses of Parliament in the UK and the European Parliament as well as signed off by the EU leaders.
There had been hopes that could happen at a two-day summit in the Belgian capital starting on Thursday - their final scheduled gathering of the year - but the timetable is looking increasingly tight.
France has publicly warned that it will veto any deal if it is unhappy with the terms, amid signs President Emmanuel Macron is anxious that Mr Barnier is preparing to give too much ground in his determination to get a deal.