Brexit: UK and EU agree to intensify efforts for a deal amid 'significant differences'

Suban Abdulla
·3 min read
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 05: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson answers questions during a briefing on the current coronavirus pandemic, in Downing Street on November 5, 2020 in London, England. MPs voted last night in favour of England's second national lockdown which began at midnight. The government won the vote by 516 to 39, a majority of 477 - 34 Conservative MPs rebelled. (Photo by Leon Neal - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson has told von der Leyen that “significant differences” remained in the UK-EU negotiations, in a call on Saturday. Photo: Leon Neal - WPA Pool/Getty Images

UK prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen agreed during a phone call on Saturday to “redouble efforts” to reach a Brexit trade deal.

The pair have agreed to be in “personal contact” about the discussions.

Johnson has told von der Leyen that “significant differences” remained in the UK-EU negotiations, with the two sides continuing to disagree over fishing rights and a level playing field agreement.

The call comes after two weeks of intensified talks between the UK’s chief negotiator Lord Frost and his EU equivalent Michel Barnier, with the PM and von der Leyen paving the way for further talks.

Frost and Barnier are set to meet for negotiations in London from Monday 9 November.

“Prime Minister Boris Johnson today spoke with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen for a stock take on the progress in the negotiations between the UK and the EU,” a No 10 spokeswoman said.

Talks between the pair are considered to be key moments in cross-channel bartering, as they have often led to a break in the deadlock.

Last month, their briefing led to negotiations being “intensified” before a fallout after the European Council meeting on 15 October briefly derailed the discussions.

After Saturday’s phone call, Frost tweeted: “Prime Minister Boris Johnson and commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke today about our negotiations with the EU.

“My talks with Michel Barnier will continue in London on Monday.”

Lord Frost was in Brussels capital to speak face-to-face with his European Union counterpart Michel Barnier earlier this week as the deadline for doing a deal edges closer.

Barnier told MEPs and EU diplomats that “very serious divergences” remained, with only 54 days left until the end of the transition period, after negotiations finished on Wednesday.

He said the main stumbling blocks continue to be around the “level playing field” aimed at preventing unfair competition in areas including state subsidies, fisheries and the governance of any deal.

In October, French president Emmanuel Macron was said to be laying the brickwork for a delicate compromise on fisheries, to help the UK and EU agree a deal.

Macron, who has publicly taken a hard stance on the issue, told French fishermen to brace for a smaller catch after Brexit, Reuters reports.

READ MORE: UK watchdog warns of 'significant' Brexit border disruption

It comes after, The National Audit Office (NAO) warned on Friday that Britain’s trade with the EU will face “significant disruption” when the Brexit transition ends, irrespective of a trade deal.

NAO said that COVID-19 thwarted preparations for the new border controls. This meant there was a “high risk” traders would still not be ready when the new measures kick in.

The controls are due to come into place on 1 January, the day after the transition period ends.

It also warned the government has left itself little time to mobilise its new trader support service, which will help businesses moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, a NAO report said.

Under the UK's withdrawal deal, Northern Ireland is due to enforce EU customs rules at its ports, requiring declarations for goods coming from Great Britain.

The watchdog also warned "limited" time remained for UK ports to test new IT systems.

According to the government’s latest “reasonable worst case planning” figures, between 40% and 70% of lorries transiting between the EU and the UK may still not be ready for the new border controls by 1 January.

In September, ministers warned hauliers they could face queues of up to 7,000 lorries at the main Channel crossings.

Watch: Brexit briefing: 54 days until the end of the transition period