The UK and the EU have agreed to make one last attempt to strike a post-Brexit trade deal, with negotiations set to resume in Brussels on Sunday.
Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed in a phone call on Saturday that eleventh hour pressure should be made to get agreement on the line, the period of British transition ending January 1.
In a joint statement released after the call, the two leaders said “that extra effort should be made by our negotiating teams” to assess whether the outstanding disagreements “can be resolved”.
Ms von der Leyen and Mr Johnson agreed to speak again on Monday evening.
The nearly hour-long call was an effort to break the deadlock in trade talks after EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart David Frost declared a break on Friday, failing to succeeded in overcoming deep disagreements over fishing rights in Britain. waters and fair competition rules for businesses.
Ms von der Leyen and Mr Johnson said they recognize the seriousness of the disagreements. “The two sides stressed that no agreement is possible if these issues are not resolved,” they said.
The British Prime Minister, who once said Britain can ‘have our cake and eat it’ on Brexit, now faces one of the biggest decisions of his post as Prime Minister: a compromise between ‘sovereignty’ and access to the European market. Official forecasts indicate that a no-deal exit would inflict a blow of £ 40 billion on the UK economy next year.
British officials insist the two sides were close to a deal on Friday, but new “last minute” demands were put on the table by the EU, making a deal impossible.
Those involved in the talks said outstanding issues include the UK’s resistance to demands from fishing nations, including France and Belgium, for any deal to protect long-standing rights in the area between six and twelve nautical miles off the British coast.
Fishing areas are among the most sensitive of negotiations as rights in some cases go back hundreds of years – Belgium even has a charter granted by King Charles II – and they offer lucrative catches like scallops and langoustine .
Talks are also stalled over an EU call on Britain to ensure continued access to its waters for EU boats for a decade – a request the UK sees as an affront to its sovereignty ,
Mr Barnier and his negotiating team returned to Brussels on Saturday morning and national ambassadors from EU governments could meet on Sunday to take stock of the situation.
Negotiators have a window to get an agreement on the line ahead of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.
On the issue of fair competition, known in the negotiations as a ‘level playing field’, discussions are stalled over the EU’s demands for detailed and binding commitments from Britain on its future subsidies.
EU officials said issues also remained over how to ensure Britain meets environmental and labor standards. Brussels wants EU companies to be able to sue the UK government in UK courts if it breaks its word.
Negotiators are also divided on how to enforce any agreed deal, with Brussels insisting on the right to retaliate: hitting market access rights for one sector as punishment for UK breaches of good faith in another.
On the EU side, Ms von der Leyen faces a group of disgruntled governments, including France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Spain and Italy, who have warned Mr Barnier that they would reject any deal that did not contain solid level play. land guarantees to protect their economies from unfair British competition.
Allies say Mr Johnson is ready to speak to French President Emmanuel Macron, but no call was currently scheduled.
An EU diplomat said a deal was in sight despite the events of the past 24 hours: “the gaps are real but nothing that cannot be overcome,” the diplomat said.