The showdown will take place virtually between the Prime Minister, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Council President Charles Michel and Parliament President David Sasolli. It is meant to provide a moment of political impetus to the process after months of deadlocked talks. But sources on both sides have played down the meeting because quietly behind the scenes the UK and EU teams are confident with the progress being made.
UK officials were buoyed by the announcement, some believing they’d secured an important victory after Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, had previously told EU27 ambassadors that Britain was not ready to accelerate talks.
A source said: “Just 24 hours after having said we weren’t ready for intensification, Barnier signed up to intensify talks.”
The publication of a detailed calendar for negotiations over the summer made clear that progress is being made, despite both sides refusing to tone down their hardline rhetoric in public.
Later this month, if it is safe, officials will resume face-to-face discussions in London and Brussels for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak.
Veteran trade experts say that if negotiations had reached a genuine deadlock the two sides would’ve walked away a long time ago.
Both the UK and EU remain at odds over future access to Britain’s fishing waters, the regulatory “level-playing field”, a role for the European court of Justice and the overall structure of the agreement – so-called governance.
Sam Lowe, a trade expert at the Centre for European Reform think-tank, last week told MPs: “If – and this is a big if – the headline issues can be resolved, then actually the differences between the UK and EU are fairly minor when it comes to the substance of the free-trade agreement and can probably be resolved.”
While today’s high-level meeting is not officially part of the negotiations, Mr Johnson will use it to reinforce his Government’s hardline stance on Brexit.
He will urge the EU’s top officials to inject more urgency into the process and that a deal must be struct by autumn at the “very latest”.
A UK Government official said: “The high-level meeting was always envisaged as a moment to push the negotiations forward.
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The House of Commons could also be asked to vote on the future relationship pact around the same time.
However, any deal faces further hurdles with the possibility of votes in national and regional parliaments across the bloc.
MEPs also have a say in the agreement’s ratification. Just last week, the EU Parliament’s trade and foreign affairs committee agreed a resolution that calls for the deal to be vetoed if it doesn’t offer “robust” protections for the bloc’s single market.