'Very large gaps remain' after Brexit deal talks end in Brussels

9 December 2020, 22:26 | Updated: 10 December 2020, 06:57

The talks in Brussels failed to achieve any real progress
The talks in Brussels failed to achieve any real progress. Picture: PA Images

By Asher McShane

Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Boris Johnson's last-ditch Brexit trade deal dinner talks in Brussels ended with an announcement that a "firm decision" will be reached by Sunday but that "very large gaps remain".

The PM left the dinner, at which fish featured heavily on the menu, with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen after around three hours.

A No10 source said tonight that "very large gaps remain between the two sides and it is still unclear whether these can be bridged".

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"The PM and Ms von der Leyen agreed to further discussions over the next few days between their negotiating teams," they said.

"The PM does not want to leave any route to a possible deal untested. The PM and Ms von der Leyen agreed that by Sunday a firm decision should be taken about the future of the talks."

After the dinner, Ms von der Leyen told reporters: "We had a lively & interesting discussion on the state of play on outstanding issues. We understand each other’s positions. They remain far apart.

"The teams should immediately reconvene to try to resolve these issues. We will come to a decision by the end of the weekend."

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Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner mocked the PM's "oven-ready deal" campaign slogan he used during the 2019 general election campaign, tweeted that "he has completely failed" on Brexit.

"The failure to deliver the deal he promised is his and his alone," she said.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford tweeted: "A no deal would be a massive failure of diplomacy and leadership which @BorisJohnson has to take ownership of.

"On top of the health & economic impact of Covid this is self-induced self-harm.

"Disruption to trade, tariffs, higher prices and lost jobs is never a price worth paying."

Read more: What does a no deal Brexit mean?

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Little progress has been made in negotiations since November over three issues - fishing, governance and the so-called level playing field.

A YouGov poll published on Wednesday evening shows that 64% of Brits yesterday thought that a trade deal between the UK and the EU was unlikely - up from 55% the week before.

Just three weeks remain until the current transitional arrangements expire.

Failure to reach agreement would see tariffs imposed on UK exports to the EU, the country's biggest trading partner, and could also increase bureaucracy.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has suggested that a no-deal outcome could wipe 2% off gross domestic product, a measure of the size of the economy, in 2021.

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Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey has warned that the long-term damage caused by a no-deal situation would be worse than the economic hit from coronavirus.

The political backlash will also be significant, with the PM likely to face accusations of failure and misleading the public about the "oven-ready" deal promised last year.