Boris Johnson to Head to Brussels for Crisis Brexit Talks With EU

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will head to Brussels within days for urgent talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, amid growing fears on both sides that Brexit trade talks will fail.

The two spoke on Monday evening and agreed to meet after they concluded a deal remained far off, despite frantic attempts by their negotiators to break the deadlock as time runs out. A time and date for the meeting has yet to be decided. European Union leaders gather for a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

The face-to-face meeting between Johnson and von der Leyen is a sign that eight months of technical negotiations have gone as far they can and, if there is to be a deal, political leaders will now need to step in and broker a compromise. Equally, it suggests both sides still think they have time before the ultimate deadline at the end of the year and aim to use it to extract last-minute concessions.

The two teams are still far apart, with “significant differences” on the three key issues of fisheries, rules for fair competition, and the governance of any deal, they said in a joint statement on Monday evening. Disagreements on those subjects have dogged the negotiations since they began eight months ago.

The British side gave a bleak view of the state of play, warning the negotiations may be headed for failure.

A senior British official said there had been no tangible progress since the atmosphere soured last week and there is every chance they will not reach an agreement. The Europeans were also pessimistic, with Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney warning of mounting frustration with the British approach.

Coveney said some countries are becoming “resigned” to the idea of Britain crashing out of the EU single market and customs union with no trade deal in place, and the mood in the bloc is starting to shift toward contingency planning.

Boris Johnson to Head to Brussels for Crisis Brexit Talks With EU

“Without political intervention from the very top, i.e. from the prime minister and the president, then I think people are increasingly pessimistic that the negotiating teams can get this concluded successfully,” he told RTE.

Separately, Johnson signaled on Monday he is prepared to back down on his threat to break international law by unilaterally ripping up parts of the Brexit divorce deal he signed with the EU -- a move Coveney welcomed.

While EU officials said chief negotiator Michel Barnier believes Wednesday to be the cut-off point for reaching a deal, some diplomats raised the prospect of a discussion at a summit of the bloc’s 27 leaders that starts on Thursday.

Johnson may also want to talk to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, officials said.

Both the European and U.K. parliaments need to ratify any accord before Britain’s transition period ends on Dec. 31 and they are already facing a scramble to get that work done in time.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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