UK PM and EU chief to speak as post-Brexit talks go to wire

·2-min read
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are to speak by telephone on Saturday; she is seen in a file image from October 29, 2020
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are to speak by telephone on Saturday; she is seen in a file image from October 29, 2020

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are to speak by telephone on Saturday, her spokesman said, as post-Brexit talks butted up persistently against major differences.

European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer late Friday tweeted an update to von der Leyen's calendar, saying "Saturday 7 November afternoon: phone call with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the state-of-play of the EU-UK negotiations".

A UK spokesman confirmed the call, saying Johnson "will speak to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tomorrow afternoon (Saturday) to take stock of the UK-EU negotiations".

Despite multiple rounds of negotiations, including two weeks of "intense" talks that ended Wednesday, both sides remain far apart on key issues standing in the way of an accord on post-Brexit relations.

Time is running out for an agreement, with a transition period following Britain's January departure from the bloc finishing at the end of December, and several weeks needed for a vetting and ratification process of any treaty.

The chief negotiators for both sides, the EU's Michel Barnier and Britain's David Frost, said on Wednesday that major "divergences" remain on the issues of a joint framework to guarantee fair trade competition, a robust disputes mechanism, and the EU's demand of retaining fishing access to British waters.

While the European Commission and EU member states have repeatedly said they fully back Barnier, some on the British side have hopes von der Leyen can step in to make concessions not permitted in Barnier's mandate.

Von der Leyen, however, has not done so, though last week she stressed that "we are in a critical phase now".

She and European Council President Charles Michel spoke by videolink with Johnson on October 14, with von der Leyen tweeting afterwards that the EU wants a deal "but not at any price".

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