Brexit: Ursula von der Leyen says there is 'path to agreement'

16 December 2020, 10:21 | Updated: 16 December 2020, 10:51

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The European Commission president says "there is a path to an agreement now” in post-Brexit trade talks, adding the next few days would be "decisive".

Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Brussels that "as things stand I cannot tell you whether there will be a deal or not".

Although she said there is a "path" to an agreement, she conceded it is "very narrow". "It is therefore our responsibility to continue trying," she added.

The UK and EU's chief negotiators Lord Frost and Michel Barnier are continuing talks in Brussels this week.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson says no-deal Brexit remains 'most likely outcome' as talks continue

Mrs Von der Leyen's comments spark hopes the UK may leave the EU with a deal, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said no free trade agreement still remains the "most likely outcome".

For months talks have been deadlocked on the issues of fishing rights, the "level playing field" to ensure neither side can unfairly compete with the other on environmental standards, workers' rights or state subsidies, and the legal mechanisms to govern any deal.

Mrs Von der Leyen indicated on Tuesday that fishing rights remained a major obstacle, while there are also still difficulties on how to "future proof" fair competition, with the UK strongly resisting attempts to force it to follow EU rules.

But she suggested some progress had been made on the "level playing field".

"On the level playing field, our aim is simply to ensure fair competition on our own market, very simple," Mrs von der Leyen told MEPs.

"And this is why we need to establish robust mechanisms.

“The architecture we're working on rests on two pillars: state aid and standards.

"On state aid, we have made progress based on common principles, guarantees of domestic enforcement and the possibility to autonomously remedy the situation when needed.

"On standards, we have agreed a strong mechanism of non-regression. That's a big step forward."

Ms von der Leyen acknowledged the negotiations on fisheries remain "very difficult" and may prove impossible.

She said: "We do not question the UK's sovereignty on its own waters.

"But we ask for predictability and stability for our fishermen and our fisherwomen.

"And, in all honesty, it sometimes feels that we will not be able to resolve this question.

"But we must continue to try to find a solution and it is the only responsible and right course of action."

With MEPs concerned a deal could be implemented provisionally before they get the chance to vote on it, Mrs von der Leyen added: "The clock puts us all in a very difficult situation, not least this Parliament and its right to exercise democratic scrutiny and ratification."

Negotiations between the two sides were extended on Sunday after Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen agreed to continue the process.

The UK's current trading arrangements with the EU expire at the end of the month, meaning any new deal would have to be in place by January 1.

If not, tariffs and quotas will apply and bureaucracy will increase, causing further damage to an economy already ravaged by coronavirus.

Latest World News

See more Latest World News

Belarus Russia Military

Biden says Putin will pay ‘dear price’ if he invades Ukraine

Donald Trump

Supreme Court allows release of presidential documents in Capitol investigation

President Biden stands next to a lectern

Democrats’ voting reform bill fails in US senate

Fisherman have protested in Peru after an oil spill caused by Friday's volcanic eruption

Tonga: Fishermen protest in Peru after sea life 'massacred' by oil spill caused by eruption

Biden

Biden admits nation is weary from Covid, but US in a better place

There have been concerns about 5G interference with plane equipment, leading to flights being cancelled

Flights to US grounded as fears grow over 5G interference with aircraft equipment

In this courtroom sketch, Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard appears for a bail hearing in Toronto (Alexandra Newbould/AP)

Fashion mogul Peter Nygard denied bail as he awaits trial in Canada

Jon Stewart (Phil McCarten/AP)

Comedian and talk show host Jon Stewart wins Mark Twain Award

A woman gets a manicure at the Van Gogh museum (Peter Dejong/AP)

Dutch cultural sector teams up with hairdressers in lockdown protest

The 39 victims were found in a lorry in Grays, Essex

Trafficking ringleader jailed in Belgium over Essex lorry deaths

Gaspard Ulliel has died aged 37

Marvel's Moon Knight star Gaspard Ulliel, 37, dies in Alps skiing accident

Macron said he want a sign of good faith from the UK

Macron blasts Britain as he blames London for migrant deaths in the Channel

Jane D Hartley (Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)

Joe Biden names Democratic fundraiser as ambassador to UK

Gaspard Ulliel (Ian West/PA)

French actor Gaspard Ulliel dies after skiing accident in the Alps

General view of the centre of Pentonville Prison, London (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Pope Francis makes plea for redemption for prison inmates

A convoy of Russian armoured vehicles (AP)

Russia demands ‘watertight’ guarantee against Nato expansion to Ukraine