Brexit trade talks to 'go extra mile' in bid to secure deal

13 December 2020, 12:06 | Updated: 13 December 2020, 23:24

The Prime Minister and Ursula von der Leyen spoke today
The Prime Minister and Ursula von der Leyen spoke today. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen have agreed that Brexit trade talks should be extended yet again.

Ms von der Leyen said she and Boris Johnson had agreed to "go the extra mile" and continue negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal following a call at 11am today.

The prime minister convened his cabinet after their call at 11am had concluded to update them on the latest progress made.

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In a joint statement they agreed to "go the extra mile" in an effort to find a solution after almost a year of negotiations.

The statement said: "We had a useful phone call this morning. We discussed the major unresolved topics.

"Our negotiating teams have been working day and night over recent days.

"And despite the exhaustion after almost a year of negotiations, despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over we think it is responsible at this point to go the extra mile.

"We have accordingly mandated our negotiators to continue the talks and to see whether an agreement can even at this late stage be reached."

No further deadline for the conclusion of the talks was mentioned.

After the announcement Mr Johnson said: "As things stand and this was basically what Ursula and I agreed, I am afraid we are still very far apart on some key things.

"But where there is life there is hope, we are going to keep talking to see what we can do. The UK certainly won’t be walking away from the talks, I think people would expect us to go the extra mile.

"I repeated my offer, which is if it is necessary to talk to other capitals then I am very happy to do that.

"The Commission is very determined to keep the negotiations on the way that they have been done between us and the Commission. That’s fine."

Mr Johnson said there is a Brexit trade "deal to be done" but warned that the UK and EU "remain very far apart" on the key issues.

He said: "We are always happy to talk and to make progress where we can. I do think, as I say, there is a deal to be done if our partners want to do it. But we remain very far apart on these key issues.

"And you know what they are - the UK can't be locked into the EU's regulatory orbit and we've obviously got to take back control of our fisheries four-and-a-half years after people voted for it.

"So those are the points. I think that it is very clear what the UK is talking about, let's see what we can achieve.

"But in the meantime, get ready, with confidence, for January 1 - trade on WTO terms if we have to."

Labour said in a statement: “The Conservatives promised the British people that they had an oven-ready deal and that they would get Brexit done. The Government needs to deliver on that promise, get us the deal and allow us to move on as a country.”

The announcement came amid reports of supermarkets being told to stockpile certain goods.

A supermarket industry source told the Sunday Times: "There was a conversation a week ago when ministers said prepare for No Deal. This weekend the message is that it's No Deal.

"Supermarkets and ministers are hugely worried about panic-buying. They saw what happened over Covid when people started hoarding toilet rolls and know how quickly it can go wrong.

"That will be nothing compared to what will happen. Meat supplies will be fine and fruit comes from South America but there are likely to be shortages of vegetables for three months."

The British Retail Consortium has warned that supermarkets and their shoppers would be hit with a £3.1 billion annual "tariff bombshell" without a deal, with 85% of foods imported from the EU expected to face tariffs exceeding 5%.

In another development today, Boris Johnson gave the green light to a £4billion operation to protect Britain’s supply chain and fishing waters, taking direct control of Britain's No Deal preparations.

Mr Johnson will reportedly lead a new 'super-committee' alongside the existing No Deal preparation group chaired by Michael Gove.