EU and UK say Brexit gap still large, talks continue

The European Union and Britain said on Saturday major divergences remain but that post-Brexit negotiations would continue next week to clinch a trade deal in the scant time left.

Following a phone call with Boris Johnson, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the differences were “large”, while the British prime minister described them as “significant”.

EU negotiator Michel Barnier said he would head back to London Sunday to resume talks with UK counterpart David Frost next week.

Despite multiple rounds of talks, including two weeks of “intense” meetings that ended Wednesday, the sides remain far apart on fishing rights and rules for competition between British and European companies.

“Some progress has been made, but large differences remain especially on level playing field and fisheries. Our teams will continue working hard next week,” von der Leyen tweeted.

Johnson said the negotiating teams would reconvene in London on Monday, “in order to redouble efforts to reach a deal”, according to a Downing Street spokesperson.

“The prime minister set out that, while some progress had been made in recent discussions, significant differences remain in a number of areas, including the so-called level playing field and fish,” he said.

Both leaders agreed to remain in personal contact as well, signalling a stepped-up political effort to secure a new trading partnership before Britain ends a post-Brexit transition period on December 31.

Before then, several weeks are needed for any treaty to be vetted and ratified by both sides, and observers have said they will be cutting it very fine if agreement is not reached by mid-November.

Red lines

Both sides had warned earlier in the year that a draft deal should be on the table before the end of October if it is to be ratified by the EU and UK parliaments before the end of the year.

But the talks blew past this unofficial deadline, and Britain could yet leave the EU single market and customs union at midnight on December 31 with no follow-on framework for cross-Channel business.

Both sides say they would prefer to avoid the economic disruption that this would entail, but both insist the are ready if it comes to that, and neither is yet ready to cross their red lines. 

For Britain, this means reasserting sovereignty over its fishing waters and for Brussels agreeing rules to prevent UK businesses gaining an unfair advantage over EU competitors.   

Barnier said he was going to London “to find an agreement that respects the interests and values of the EU and its 27 member states.”

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