No breakthrough expected in Johnson call to EU, says Byrne

Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent

Minister for State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne has said he was not expecting a telephone conversation between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his European Commission counterpart to result in a breakthrough in the post-Brexit trade talks.

Mr Johnson was due to speak to Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to “take stock” of the deadlocked trade talk negotiations today.

Briefings between the two leaders are seen as key moments in the cross-Channel bartering, with their conversation last month seeing discussions “intensified” before a fallout after the European Council meeting on October 15th briefly derailed the negotiations.

But Mr Byrne said he doubted the conversation between Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen would lead to white smoke on agreeing a deal, with “big issues” still remaining in talks that he described as having been “difficult”.

“I personally don’t expect that there would be major progress today but at the same time I think it is very good that the top two are talking – I think that’s really positive, but I don’t think we would expect ‘a moment’ at this particular point,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“At the moment there is a huge range of issues that need to be discussed at a technical level and they need to continue, I hope.

“I hope that today’s discussion between Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson will progress that further.”

UK chief negotiator Lord Frost was in the Belgian capital to speak face-to-face with his European Union counterpart Michel Barnier earlier this week.

Meetings between the pair are due to continue next week in London after both agreed there continued to be gaps in the UK and the bloc’s positions as the deadline for doing a deal edges closer.

Ticking clock

After talks finished on Wednesday, Mr Barnier briefed MEPs and EU diplomats that “very serious divergences” remained, with only 54 days left until the end of the transition period.

He said the main stumbling blocks continued to be around the “level playing field” aimed at preventing unfair competition on areas including state subsidies, fisheries policy and the governance of any deal.

Lord Frost previously said progress had been made during two weeks of intensive talks but “wide divergences remain on some core issues”.

More discussions are planned between Brussels and London ahead of the UK’s scheduled exit from the EU at the end of the year.

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