The Prime Minister held talks with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in an attempt to inject new momentum into flagging negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal. Speaking after the meeting, Boris Johnson said: “I certainly don’t want to see it going on until the autumn/winter as perhaps in Brussels they would like. I don’t see any point in that.”
A joint statement published on the EU website after the meeting read: “The Parties agreed that new momentum was required.
“They supported the plans agreed by Chief Negotiators to intensify the talks in July and to create the most conducive conditions for concluding and ratifying a deal before the end of 2020. This should include, if possible, finding an early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement.
“The Parties underlined their intention to work hard to deliver a relationship, which would work in the interests of the citizens of the Union and of the United Kingdom. They also confirmed their commitment to the full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.”
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The high-level meeting took place by video conference call after the two sides agreed to an “intensified” negotiating timetable as the clock counts down to the end of the current transition period at the end of year.
It comes after the EU formally accepted on Friday that the UK would not seek any extension to the transition which allows Britain continued access to the EU single market while talks continue.
The Prime Minister is expected to have said that the talks need to be “swiftly concluded”, providing the public and business with certainty on the way forward by the autumn at the latest.
While he will insist the UK still wants to strike an “ambitious” free trade agreement, he made clear that it is ready to start trading on World Trade Organisation rules from January 1 if a deal cannot be reached.
Mrs von der Leyen was joined on the conference call by European Council president Charles Michel and president of the European Parliament David Sassoli.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, were with Mr Johnson.
The meeting will be followed by a series of weekly talks at official level for five weeks, commencing on June 29, looking at detailed technical issues.
It is hoped that they will for the first time in these negotiations include face-to-face meetings, with both sides acknowledging that the remote discussions, due to the coronavirus epidemic, have gone as far as they can.
Four rounds of video conferencing discussions made only limited progress with a series of major obstacles still to be overcome.
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Mostly notably the two sides remain far apart on the issues of future access to UK fisheries and the so-called “level playing field”, the extent to which Britain is required to follow EU rules and standards in return for access to the single market.
The prospect that they will be unable to reach an agreement has alarmed business groups, who warn that firms reeling from the impact of the coronavirus lockdown are ill-prepared to with a major upheaval in trading arrangements with the UK’s biggest trading partner.
French former Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau said the EU is preparing itself for a no-deal exit.
The MEP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are ready either for an agreement or for a no-deal and we are getting prepared more actively for a no-deal considering the circumstances.
“We believe it is possible to have an agreement – it has to be ready in October so that parliaments on both sides can ratify it.
“We believe it is possible because we have the political declaration which we negotiated together, signed together and should respect together – so, yes, the framework is here.”