Boris Johnson will join EU Brexit talks to inject new momentum

15 June 2020, 08:24

Boris Johnson's with Ursula von der Leyen will take place by video conference call
Boris Johnson's with Ursula von der Leyen will take place by video conference call. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Prime Minister will hold talks with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen as a French MEP says the EU is preparing itself for a no-deal Brexit

Boris Johnson will take part in a high-level video conference after talks last week failed to produce movement on trade talks after the EU accepted the UK would not ask for an extension to the transition period.

Talks have been underway between the UK and the EU as both sides attempt to reach a deal on trade. However, neither side is entirely happy with certain propositions from the other.

Last week, Michael Gove said there has been "sadly no movement" on key Brexit negotiation areas, including fisheries and the "level playing field".

Speaking in the Commons, the Cabinet Office minister said: "The transition period ends on December 31 2020. Under no circumstances will the Government accept an extension.

"Indeed, we have a domestic law obligation not to accept."

The PM's meeting takes place after both sides agreed to an "intensified" negotiating timetable as the clock counts down to the end of the current transition period at the end of year.

Mr Johnson is expected to say that the talks need to be "swiftly concluded," providing the public and business with certainty on the way forward by the autumn at the latest.

While he will insist the UK still wants to strike an "ambitious" free trade agreement, he is expected to make clear that it is ready to start trading on World Trade Organisation rules from January 1 if a deal cannot be reached.

Mrs von der Leyen will be joined on the conference call by European Council president Charles Michel and the president of the European Parliament David Sassoli.

The Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and the UK's chief negotiator David Frost will be with Mr Johnson.

It will be followed by a series of weekly talks at official level for five weeks commencing June 29 looking at detailed technical issues.

It is hoped that they will for the first time in these negotiations include face-to-face meetings, with both sides acknowledging that the remote discussions, due to the coronavirus epidemic, have gone as far as they can.

Four rounds of video conferencing discussions made only limited progress with a series of major obstacles still to be overcome.

Mostly notably the two sides remain far apart on the issues of future access to UK fisheries and the so-called "level playing field", the extent to which Britain is required to follow EU rules and standards in return for access to the single market.

The prospect that they will be unable to reach an agreement has alarmed business groups who warn that firms reeling from the impact of the coronavirus lockdown are ill-prepared to with a major upheaval in trading arrangements with the UK's biggest trading partner.

The European Union is preparing itself for a no-deal Brexit, a French former Europe minister has said.

MEP Nathalie Loiseau told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We are ready either for an agreement or for a no-deal and we are getting prepared more actively to a no-deal considering the circumstances.

"We believe it is possible to have an agreement - it has to be ready in October so that parliaments on both sides can ratify it.

"We believe it is possible because we have the political declaration which we negotiated together, signed together and should respect together - so, yes, the framework is here."