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Brexit trade talks to continue but Johnson says two sides remain 'very far apart'

The legal date for the UK to leave the Customs Union and Single Market is 31 December.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen issuing a statement on post-Brexit trade talks today.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen issuing a statement on post-Brexit trade talks today.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Updated Dec 13th 2020, 3:12 PM

POST-BREXIT TRADE talks will continue as the European Commission President said it is “responsible at this point in time to go the extra mile”. 

In a joint statement, Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to continue negotiations. 

Earlier this week, they set today as the deadline for reaching a decision on the future of trade negotiations.  

Boris Johnson has suggested there is still hope of a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, but the two sides remain “very far apart”.

“I had a constructive and useful phone call with Prime Minister Boris Johnson,” von der Leyen said this afternoon. 

She said they discussed the “major unsolved topics” hindering an agreement. These include fishing rights and the so-called level playing field ‘ratchet’ that would tie the UK to future EU standards.

“Our negotiation teams have been working day and night over the recent days,” she said.

She added that despite missing deadlines “over and over”, both leaders believe it is “responsible at this point in time to go the extra mile”. 

The negotiations will continue in Brussels and von der Leyen said they will determine “whether an agreement can even at this late stage be reached.”

Johnson said the UK would not be walking away from the negotiating table and “where there is life, there is hope” but a no-deal outcome was still the most likely scenario.

He said the UK should get ready for the breakdown of talks, resulting in tariffs under World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms from January 1.

“The most likely thing now is, of course, that we have to get ready for WTO terms, Australia terms,” the Prime Minister said.

He also confirmed he has been rebuffed again in efforts to speak with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. 

The Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the joint statement is a “good signal”. 

“I think both sides do want a deal and they want a deal now to provide certainty for so many people who have been waiting for it for years,” said Coveney, speaking on This Week on RTÉ Radio One.

Coveney believes that there are signs that both sides are working together to find a way forward, such as the change in language used by von der Leyen and Johnson.

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“The fact that they had a joint statement today as well, is a sign that they are working to try to find a way forward together.

“It’s not going to be done simply by one side outmaneuvering the other, with a clear winner and a clear loser,” he said.

Earlier today, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it would be an “appalling failure of statecraft” if a trade deal is not reached. 

 On 31 January this year the UK officially left the European Union, resulting in its MEPs leaving the European Parliament and the UK no longer having an EU Commissioner.

Between that date and 31 December, known as the “transition period”, it remains part of the Single Market and Customs Union.

Trade talks have been ongoing during that time in London or Brussels. Over 95% of the issues have been agreed upon and drafted into a legal text.

With reporting by Gráinne Ní Aodha and Tadgh McNally

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