EU, UK leaders agree ‘new momentum’ needed in Brexit talks

European Council President Charles Michel, on screen right, speaks via videoconference to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, screen left, prior to EU-UK talks via videoconference at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday, June 15, 2020. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Parliament President David Sassoli and European Council President Charles Michel held a videoconference with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday to assess the state of negotiations between both sides on a future trade agreement. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, Pool)
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A video conference between the EU’s top officials and British Prime minister Boris Johnson focusing on post-Brexit relations produced only a declaration of good will, with both parties acknowledging Monday that a “new momentum was required” to break the deadlock in negotiations.

In the wake of Britain’s political departure from the bloc, the U.K. and the EU are trying to secure a new trade deal before the end of the year but the pair remain at loggerheads on several key issues.

Following a short meeting between Johnson, EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen, EU council president Charles Michel and David Sassoli, the president of the EU Parliament, the leaders said in a joint statement that talks should intensify “to create the most conducive conditions for concluding and ratifying a deal before the end of 2020.”

Though the talks have made little headway, Britain appears to have softened its combative stance toward the EU. Johnson had previously threatened to walk away from negotiations if there was no progress by his June meeting with EU chiefs.

Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, said Monday’s meeting was a chance to take stock and “push the negotiations forward.” He said the U.K.’s aim was now to strike a deal by the end of the summer and Johnson said there was “no reason” a deal could not be reached in July.

“It’s very clear what we need to achieve. I don’t think we’re actually that far apart,” Johnson said in a televised interview. “I certainly don’t want to see it going on to the autumn, winter as I think perhaps in Brussels they would like.”

The parties disagree notably on regulations for businesses and for the fishing industry in particular, with the U.K. adamantly opposed to EU demands for long-term access to British waters. Earlier this month, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier insisted a trade deal remains possible but said an agreement on fisheries is required for a compromise.

In a message posted on Twitter, Michel said he will assess the progress made with member states later this week during a virtual summit of EU heads of state and governments, warning they will “never accept an agreement that goes against interests of the Union.”

The U.K. left the political institutions of the EU on Jan. 31 but remains inside the EU’s tariff-free economic zone until the end of the year. This transition period could have been extended by two years but the U.K. made clear last week it would not seek a prolongation.

In their statement, the U.K. and the EU insisted on the need to intensify the talks in July and to create conditions for an accord to be ratified in time and avoid a no-deal scenario which would see tariffs and other restrictions imposed.

“This should include, if possible, finding an early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement,” they said.

Teams of negotiators from both sides expressed hopes last week that the planned resumption of face-to-face meetings would help find a way out of the impasse.