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Brexit: Boris Johnson warns there is 'strong possibility' that trade deal will not be struck with EU

The two leaders met for a three-hour dinner in Brussels last night, and set Sunday as a final deadline on trade talks.

Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen ahead of their meeting last night
Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen ahead of their meeting last night
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Updated Dec 10th 2020, 6:00 PM

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has warned there is a “strong possibility” that the UK will fail to broker a trade deal with the EU as he urged the public to prepare for the end of the transition period.

Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had set out a deadline of Sunday for a decision on the future of Brexit negotiations.

The decision follows a three-hour dinner between the two leaders in Brussels last night, with both sides still far from agreeing a post-Brexit trade deal.

They also asked chief negotiators Michel Barnier and David Frost to reconvene in the city today.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin flew to Brussels last night to take part in a tw0-day EU summit, where it had originally been expected that the 27 member states would vote on a prospective deal.

However, such a vote will now not take place after negotiations stalled in recent days.

Von der Leyen is now expected to debrief Europe’s leaders on the state of play with the negotiations.

Speaking today, Martin said he doesn’t expect a ‘lengthy discussion’ on Brexit today but is looking forward to hearing an assessment from the president. 

“There can be no winners or losers in these negotiations from here on,” he told reportrs. “There has to be a common purpose in terms of getting a deal over the line, in my view, because it makes sense to get a trading deal. 

“In my view one final effort is required here and there will obviously be a need for compromise in the end of the day.”

Talks have faltered on fishing rights, among other issues, the “level playing field” measures aimed at preventing the UK undercutting the EU on standards and state subsidies, and the way that any deal would be governed.

Following last night’s meeting, a senior Downing Street source said that it was “unclear” whether differences between the two sides could be bridged.

A Downing Street spokesman also said that “any agreement must respect the independence and sovereignty of the UK”.

In a statement, Von der Leyen said both sides should “immediately reconvene” to try to resolve the “essential issues” but stressed the positions remained “far apart”.

She added that the UK and EU would “come to a decision by the end of the weekend”.

It was hoped that progress at a political level between Johnson and von der Leyen could pave the way for more talks between Frost and Barnier.

But the statements from both sides suggested that while further discussions would be held, substantial movement on the key issues had not been made.

The outcome of the dinner came as no surprise as both sides had expressed pessimism ahead of the encounter.

European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness said that the statements issued by Johnson and von der Leyen after a “lively and interesting” dinner last night provided a “glimmer of hope” because both sides appeared to understand each other’s positions.

In an interview with RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme, she also said the issue of the level playing field had become “emotive” and that there was “a deal to be done”.

“I think that if you take some of the heat out of this discussion and look at the practical implications for businesses and individuals of our failure to reach an agreement, I think – on balance – a deal and agreement is much more important,” she said.

Also this morning, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News that Johnson would “leave no stone unturned” in the search for a deal but said there had not been “enough pragmatism and flexibility on the EU side”.

“We are not going to sacrifice the basic points of democratic principle on fisheries, on control over our laws as we leave the transition period,” he said.

“I think it’s important that is recognised on the EU side and if they do I think the scope for a deal is still there to be done.”

Integrity of common market

Before leaving London, Johnson told MPs that no prime minister could accept the demands the EU was making, although he insisted a trade deal was still possible.

That followed remarks by Barnier to EU foreign ministers that he now believed a no-deal Brexit was more likely than a trade agreement being reached by 31 December.

In Berlin, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel said there was still a chance for a deal. But she warned: “We must not endanger the integrity of the common market.”

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Just three weeks remain until the current transitional arrangements expire.

Failure to reach agreement would see tariffs imposed on UK exports to the EU, the country’s biggest trading partner, and could also increase bureaucracy.

European sources said the two men and their teams would return to talks this morning.

However, a deal agreed on Tuesday means the Northern Ireland Protocol – which would mean goods travelling from Britain to Ireland via the North will be checked after they cross the Irish Sea – can be implemented in practice.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland yesterday that Tuesday’s announcement was a “historic day” that would ensure the protocol would be respected regardless of the outcome of trade talks.

Contains reporting from Press Association and © AFP 2020.

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