Brexit: PM ‘disappointed’ with progress ahead of EU summit

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Boris Johnson will decide on the “next steps” for post-Brexit trade talks after an EU summit later this week, Downing Street has said.

No 10 said the PM expressed “disappointment” at recent progress in a call with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday.

Mr Johnson has previously set Thursday’s meeting of EU leaders as the deadline for a deal.

Mrs von der Leyen said the EU wanted a deal, “but not at any price”.

Both sides are calling on the other to compromise on key issues, including fishing and limits on government subsidies to businesses.

They are locked in talks over striking an agreement to govern their trading relationship once the UK’s post-Brexit transition period ends in December.

A No 10 spokesperson said Mr Johnson “noted the desirability of a deal” during his pre-summit call with Mrs von der Leyen.

However, the PM also “expressed his disappointment that more progress had not been made over the past two weeks,” they added.

“The prime minister said that he looked forward to hearing the outcome of the European Council and would reflect before setting out the UK’s next steps.”

Earlier, a No 10 spokesman said fishing rights remained the “starkest” point of difference ahead of Thursday’s two-day EU leaders’ summit.

The government’s chief Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost was seen going into Downing Street on Thursday morning.

Backbench Conservative Peter Bone told MPs Lord Frost was briefing the prime minister “on whether to continue the negotiations or whether to call it a day and prepare for a no-trade deal Brexit”.

‘Lot of work’

Speaking after her call with the prime minister, Mrs von der Leyen said: “The EU is working on a deal, but not at any price.”

She added that “conditions must be right” on fishing, post-Brexit competition rules and how a deal is enforced for the EU to sign an agreement.

She added: “Still a lot of work ahead of us.”

European Council President Charles Michel also joined the call with Mrs von der Leyen and the Mr Johnson on Wednesday evening.

In a letter to EU leaders ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Mr Michel said reaching a deal before December was “in the interests of both sides”.

He added that as well as fishing rights, “key issues” for a deal included post-Brexit rules on competition and how a deal would be enforced.

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Analysis box by Katya Adler, Europe editor

EU leaders are not yet all on the same page when it comes to how much they should give up or give in to get a deal.

Brussels keeps calling on the UK to make concessions but a successful outcome will require compromises on both sides.

Will France’s Emmanuel Macron relinquish his hard-line position about keeping current fishing quotas in UK waters? He’ll have to, to get a UK deal.

Will Germany’s Angela Merkel give way on some demands on competition regulations (aka the level playing field) yet still grant the UK zero tariff, zero quota access to the single market?

EU leaders must agree all this amongst themselves and it won’t be straightforward.

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Why does 15 October matter?

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Over the summer, both the UK and EU seemed to agree the end of October was the final date to get a deal done – allowing enough time for it to be ratified before 31 December.

But come 7 September, Boris Johnson decided to shorten the deadline.

He said if a deal wasn’t reached by 15 October, “then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on”.

Thursday is that day – but Downing Street appears to have moved back from it as a hard deadline.

Formal negotiations ended at the start of October, but Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen pledged to “intensify talks” over the coming weeks.

Pressed on whether the UK would walk away on 15 October, the government’s chief negotiator Lord Frost said it was his job to “advise the prime minister” on whether a deal was on the cards by then.

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Speaking on Tuesday, France’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian suggested EU leaders do not see this week as a hard deadline for a breakthrough.

“The date of 15 October, it’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson who announced that, it is not the position of the European Council,” he told French MPs.

He added that “everything should be played out” between October 15 and “mid-November”.

He warned that the prospect of no deal was “unfortunately very likely,” but the EU was “prepared for all eventualities”.

Transition deadline looms

By remaining in the bloc’s single market and customs union, the UK has continued to follow EU trading rules during its post-Brexit transition period.

This 11-month period is due to end in December, and the UK has ruled out seeking an extension.

Formal talks began in March and continued throughout the pandemic, initially via video link before in-person discussions resumed over the summer.

If a deal is not done, the UK will trade with the EU according to the default rules set by the World Trade Organization.

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