UK and EU agree to reconvene Brexit talks on ‘critical issues’

#Brexit special section

The UK and EU will resume negotiations to try and bridge the “significant differences” between  them over “critical issues” to secure a post-Brexit trade deal.

Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen reached the decision to reconvene negotiating teams in Brussels tomorrow (Sunday), following a telephone call today.

While the two leaders publicly welcomed “the fact that progress has been achieved in many areas,” their joint statement cautioned: “Nevertheless, significant differences remain on three critical issues: level playing field, governance and fisheries.

“Both sides underlined that no agreement is feasible if these issues are not resolved.”

“Whilst recognising the seriousness of these differences, we agreed that a further effort should be undertaken by our negotiating teams to assess whether they can be resolved,” said the statement, adding that the prime minister and von der Leyen “will speak again on Monday evening.”

Frost and Barnier meet again after ‘pause’

Today’s 90 minute telephone call between the prime minister and von der Leyen follows the “pause” placed on the talks yesterday by the UK’s chief negotiator Lord [David] Frost and the EU’s Michel Barnier.

“After one week of intense negotiations in London, the two chief negotiators agreed today that the conditions for an agreement are not met, due to significant divergences on level playing field, governance and fisheries,” said a statement from Frost and Barnier.

“On this basis, they agreed to pause the talks in order to brief their principals on the state of play of the negotiations. President Von der Leyen and prime minister Johnson will discuss the state of play tomorrow afternoon.”

Leaving London this morning to return to Brussels, Barnier told reporter: “We keep calm, as always, and if there is still a way, we will see.”

Chances of a deal hangs in the balance

Frost will return to Brussels to resume the talks tomorrow – a move welcomed by Ireland’s taoiseach Micheál Martin, who tweeted: “An agreement is in everyone’s best interests. Every effort should be made to reach a deal.”

A spokesperson for Johnson said: “There are still some issues to overcome. Time is in very short supply and we are at a very difficult point in the talks.

“What is certain is we will not be able agree a deal that doesn’t respect our fundamental principles on sovereignty, fishing and control.”

The Telegraph reports the chances of reaching a deal “are currently hanging in the balance” with “France threatening to veto” a deal over fishing and “other EU governments anxious” about state subsidies.

‘A bit cheeky’

“A senior UK government source” is quoted as saying the chances for a deal are “receding” because Barnier’s team were “bringing new elements into the negotiations” at the “eleventh hour”.

“It is a bit cheeky,” “Our positions have been entirely clear from the start.” said an EU official, quoted by the Guardian, who dismissed the claims as “a bit cheeky”.

The Guardian’s report suggests fear over a French veto on fishing is overstated, with both UK and EU sources ageing “the issue is not the major obstacle to a successful negotiation.”

Thursday’s summit of EU leaders is a new deadline for talks to reach an agreement given they could be torpedoed on Wednesday when the UK government tables the finance bill containing clauses that override the withdrawal agreement.

This will add to the controversy and damage caused by the internal market bill – which is also set to return to the Commons this week.

The UK’s transition period from the EU ends on December 31.

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