Brexit: 'Substantial progress' made but 'big differences remain' as talks continue

17 December 2020, 19:42 | Updated: 17 December 2020, 20:06

Ursula von der Leyen said has been "substantial progress" in Brexit talks
Ursula von der Leyen said has been "substantial progress" in Brexit talks. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

There has been "substantial progress" in Brexit talks but "big differences remain to be bridged" as neogitations continue, Ursula von der Leyen has said.

Following a call with prime minister Boris Johnson on Thursday evening, the European Commission president said she welcomed progress towards a deal but warned the situation remains "very challenging".

She tweeted: "We welcomed substantial progress on many issues. Yet big differences remain to be bridged, in particular on fisheries.

"Bridging them will be very challenging. Negotiations will continue tomorrow."

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It signals a shift in negotiations towards a deal after days of last-ditch talks between both sides.

It is understood compromises were made over several contentious issues, but serious disagreements remain over fisheries.

A Downing Street spokesperson said the PM told Ms von der Leyen the UK is "making every effort" to comply with EU requests but the bloc's position on fisheries remains "simply not reasonable".

A readout after the call said: "Time was very short and it now looked very likely that agreement would not be reached unless the EU position changed substantially.

“He said that we were making every effort to accommodate reasonable EU requests on the level playing field, but even though the gap had narrowed some fundamental areas remained difficult.

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“On fisheries he stressed that the UK could not accept a situation where it was the only sovereign country in the world not to be able to control access to its own waters for an extended period and to be faced with fisheries quotas which hugely disadvantaged its own industry."

Mr Johnson warned negotiators needed to "shift significantly" if the two sides are to strike a deal by the Sunday deadline.

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Earlier on Thursday Michael Gove said the Government will not seek to negotiate a fresh trade agreement with the EU next year if they cannot reach a deal before the end of the Brexit transition period on January 31.

The Cabinet Office minister told the Commons Brexit Committee that December 31 was a "fixed point in law," when the transition must end.

"That would be it. We would have left on WTO (World Trade Organisation) terms," he said.

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"It is still the case of course that there would be contact between the UK and European nations and politicians as one would expect.

"But what we would not be doing is attempting to negotiate a new deal."

He warned the likelihood of striking a deal at this late stage was "less than 50%".

This is a breaking news story. More to follow...