Brexit: Boris Johnson to fly to Brussels as time running out for trade deal

Publishedduration24 minutes ago

image copyrightEPA

image captionPhone calls between Mr Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen have so far failed to find a way through

Boris Johnson will fly to Brussels later for talks on a post-Brexit deal with the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Time is running out to reach a deal before 31 December, when the UK stops following EU trading rules.

The pair will hold talks over dinner, after negotiations between officials ended in deadlock.

Major disagreements remain on fishing rights, business competition rules and how a deal will be policed.

At the dinner, Prime Minister Johnson will work through a list of the major sticking points with Mrs von der Leyen, who is representing the leaders of the 27 EU nations.

“It really is a make or break moment,” said BBC Newsnight’s political editor Nicholas Watt.

Any progress the two leaders make will not mean a deal is done but rather pave the way for more talks between officials, he said.

Mr Johnson will take part in Prime Minister’s Questions before travelling to the Belgian capital. EU leaders are due to meet for a summit of their own on Thursday.

A UK government source said progress at a political level may allow the negotiations – between the UK’s Lord Frost and EU’s Michel Barnier – to resume over the coming days.

But the source added that it was important to be “realistic” that an agreement might not be possible.

EU sources told the BBC that Mr Barnier briefed the bloc’s Europe ministers that talks were tilting towards no deal being reached before the deadline.

The purpose of Wednesday’s dinner is not to call a halt to talks. But nor is the purpose to proclaim that a deal’s been done.

The reason for the meeting is to see if both sides are willing in principle to tolerate the notion of budging, after the negotiations, and frankly negotiators, have been exhausted.

If the prime minister and Mrs von der Leyen can look each other in the eye and agree that there are still compromises to be had, then a deal is still possible.

If they are willing to make that kind of pact – to say privately to each other, I’m willing to budge if you are too – then that would in theory allow technical talks to get going again.

In separate talks on Tuesday, the UK and EU reached an agreement on specific trade arrangements for Northern Ireland – including on post-Brexit border checks and trading rules for NI, and how the new Irish Sea border will work.

It means the UK has now dropped plans to override sections of its EU exit agreement signed last year, which would have potentially broken international law.

Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale told the BBC’s Newsnight he did not think Downing Street “quite understands the degree of antipathy throughout the European Union” toward the UK’s plan to override the divorce deal,

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