Insufficient progress for Brexit deal, say European Union leaders

Andrew Cummings
October 16, 2020

European Union leaders are holding a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday to assess progress, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he wants to know by October 15 if a deal can be reached.

Johnson had set the first day of the European Union summit on Thursday as the deadline to get a trade and security deal to replace Britain's European Union membership that expired on January 31.

There is not sufficient progress in the Brexit talks for an agreement to be reached the EU's leaders said this evening.

Speaking as he arrived for the discussions, Taoiseach Michael Martin acknowledged there were still key stumbling blocks that need to be addressed, with the need for a fair fisheries deal high on the agenda.

But Johnson, frustrated at the slow progress towards a new trade deal, warned on Wednesday that he would decide after the meeting whether to pull the plug on talks.

European diplomats say Brussels is still hoping for a deal, but is looking for a sign from Johnson that he is serious about compromise on the EU priorities.

The EU has said any agreement will take about two months for legal ratification, translation into European languages and for approval from the European Parliament, making for an effective cutoff date of around November 1.

Meanwhile, Downing Street has confirmed that the UK's chief negotiator Lord Frost has returned to London and briefed Mr Johnson on the latest talks which took place this week in Brussels.

But EU nations like France want the access of United Kingdom companies to the EU market to be very strict because of the nation's sheer proximity and the similarity in goods and service that are traded.

Johnson is now deciding whether to pursue further negotiations to clinch a last-minute post-Brexit trade deal, after a phone call last night with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Britain's junior business minister Nadhim Zahawi said London also could not wait much longer as it needed to tell businesses to prepare if talks fail.

Mr Raab, a former Brexit Secretary, said the Government was "surprised by the attitude and the disposition" of the leaders.

"We need to lower the landing gear, we're approaching the runway".

Both sides insist they are ready for this - and would prefer it to having to accept a deal that oversteps their red lines - but experts forecast severe economic disruption.

"We are clear that we are determined to negotiate, we are determined to reach an agreement but we know there are some hard topics", he said.

Xavier Bettel, the prime minister of Luxembourg, said that the trade deal had to be "balanced" with no winners or losers in the negotiations.

Johnson's planned statement comes after the passing of his self-imposed deadline of 15 October.

The Prime Minister noted the desirability of a deal, but expressed his disappointment that more progress had not been made over the past two weeks.
He said it was time to "stop talking about words like continue or intensify" and start the final rounds of negotiation.

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