Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen set for Brexit call tonight
Boris will speak to Ursula TONIGHT: PM and EU chief will hold crunch phone call to discuss state of Brexit trade talks after Michael Gove warns chances of a deal by Sunday are ‘less than 50 per cent’
- Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen are holding Brexit call at 7pm UK time
- Call billed as a ‘stocktake’ rather than the moment of breakthrough or collapse
- Michael Gove told MPs there is ‘less than 50 per cent’ chance of deal by Sunday
- European Parliament chiefs today warned a deal must be agreed by Sunday
- They said if it comes later than that they will not have enough time to examine it
- Michel Barnier said this morning ‘good progress’ has been made in negotiations
- Negotiators face race against time as transition period ends on December 31
Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen will discuss the state of post-Brexit trade talks in a crunch phone call this evening.
The Prime Minister is expected to speak to the President of the European Commission at 7pm UK time.
The conversation has been billed as a ‘stocktake’ rather than the moment of breakthrough or collapse.
It comes after Michael Gove warned the chances of the UK and the EU agreeing a trade accord by Sunday are ‘less than 50 per cent’.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office told MPs on the Brexit Select Committee that currently ‘the chances are more likely that we won’t secure an agreement’.
Meanwhile, European Parliament chiefs today set a deadline of this weekend for an agreement to be in place.
They warned that if a deal was to be finalised past that point it would not allow enough time for MEPs to properly scrutinise and then vote for it before the end of the ‘standstill’ transition period on December 31.
The demand for a deal to be done by the end of Sunday will pile the pressure on negotiators as they try to break the deadlock on crunch issues.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, raised hopes of an agreement being in sight this morning as he said ‘good progress’ had been made as talks enter the ‘final stretch’.
But he also warned the ‘last stumbling blocks remain’ and Brussels ‘will only sign a deal protecting EU interests and principles’.
Last night Mr Johnson told MPs they will be called back from their Christmas break to vote for a deal should one be agreed.
Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen will speak on the phone this evening to discuss the state of post-Brexit trade talks
Earlier Michael Gove told MPs the chances of the UK and the EU agreeing a trade deal by Sunday are ‘less than 50 per cent’
Michel Barnier today said ‘good progress’ has been made in post-Brexit trade talks between the UK and the EU
But the EU’s chief negotiator warned there the ‘last stumbling blocks remain’ as he said negotiations are in the ‘final stretch’
The UK has insisted that it will take back control of its coastal waters from the end of the transition period.
But the EU was demanding its fleets maintain previous levels of access – with Emmanuel Macron under particular pressure from the French fishing industry.
Initially the UK said it wanted to reclaim 80 per cent of the EU quotas from January 1.
However, Brussels suggested that only 18 per cent should be restored.
The two sides are thought to be close to a ‘landing zone’ that includes a transition period, perhaps of five or seven years. However, there is no settlement yet.
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
The EU has insisted the UK commits to ‘level playing field’ provisions, guaranteeing it will not undercut businesses on the continent by rolling out lower environmental standards and regulations.
State aid has emerged as a particular issue, especially as coronavirus makes swathes of the economy unviable.
But the UK says it must regain sovereign powers to decide on rules, even though it has no plans to lower standards or warp competition by subsidising the private sector.
It appeared this area was close to resolution before France reportedly laid down a series of extra conditions including huge punishments in the form of tariffs for breaking the rules.
Although the UK is happy with ‘non-regression’ – meaning current standards are accepted as a baseline – it has dismissed demands to obey rules made by the bloc in future.
Michel Barnier told EU ambassadors this week the UK is now willing to accept the need for a ‘rebalancing mechanism’ on rules which could resolve the row.
The enforcement of any deal, and who decides whether rules are broken, has been one of the flashpoints from the start.
Breaking free of the European Court of Justice was among the biggest demands of Brexiteers at the EU referendum.
But Brussels has been pushing to keep control of the governance, as well as insisting on tough fines and punitive tariffs for breaches.
The governance issue is heavily linked to that of the ‘level playing field’ with a breakthrough on the latter likely to pave the way for a breakthrough on the former.
There has been growing optimism in recent days that the UK and the EU are not far away from agreeing a trade deal after months of stalemate.
But Mr Gove delivered a blow to hopes of an accord being imminent this afternoon as he told MPs: ‘My new resolution adopted from a few weeks ago is to avoid giving percentages.
‘But I think at the moment actually I think regrettably the chances are more likely that we won’t secure an agreement.
‘So at the moment, less than 50 per cent.’
Mr Gove had been asked what the chances are of a deal being in place by Sunday after European Parliament group leaders said that is the latest they will accept an accord to be scrutinised and voted on.
The leaders adopted a declaration this morning stating that they will not vote on the Brexit deal before the end of the year if they cannot access its text by the end of the weekend.
The declaration from the Conference of Presidents, initiated by Spanish member Iratxe Garcia Perez, states they are ready to hold an extraordinary session at the end of December if an agreement is reached by midnight on Sunday December 21.
It also calls for a provisional text of the trade agreement to be made available to European Parliament members as soon as possible.
Britain and Brussels remain split on two crunch issues: Fishing rights and the so-called ‘level playing field’ on rules.
Progress has been made on the latter but the dispute over future EU access to UK waters is threatening to torpedo the talks, with no breakthrough in sight.
Mr Barnier struck a more optimistic than expected tone this morning as negotiations continue in Brussels.
He tweeted: ‘In this final stretch of talks, transparency & unity are important as ever: Debriefed [European Parliament] Conference of Presidents this morning on negotiations.
‘Good progress, but last stumbling blocks remain. We will only sign a deal protecting EU interests & principles.’
Any deal agreed by the UK and the EU will have to be voted on and approved by both the British Parliament and the European Parliament before it can be rolled out.
MPs are due to break for Christmas from this evening but Downing Street has said they will be recalled at 48 hours’ notice should a deal be agreed.
Number 10 said: ‘Parliament has long shown it can move at pace and the country would expect nothing less.’
The ratification process is expected to take a number of days, with the negotiators now under massive time pressure to get a deal over the line as soon as possible.
A failure to agree and ratify a deal by the end of December 31 will force Britain and the bloc to trade on basic World Trade Organisation terms from January 1, with tariffs imposed on goods.
Ms von der Leyen raised hopes of a deal yesterday as she said there is a path to an accord but warned it is ‘very narrow’.
Mr Johnson last night told MPs they will be recalled from their Christmas break to vote on a deal should one be agreed
She said progress had been made on the ‘level playing field’ on rules but outlined her fear that the fishing issue may never be resolved.
Addressing the European Parliament, she said: ‘As things stand I cannot tell you whether there will be a deal or not but I can tell you that there is a path to an agreement now.
‘The path may be very narrow but it is there and it is therefore our responsibility to continue trying.
‘The good news is that we have found a way forward on most issues but this is now a case of us being so close and yet being so far away from each other.
‘Because two issues still remain outstanding, you know them, the level playing field and the fisheries.’
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