Brexit: Von der Leyen says EU and UK’s positions remain ‘apart’

EU official says ‘probability of no deal is higher than of a deal’ as Sunday deadline approaches

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday the positions in trade talks with Britain remained apart, with ensuring a level playing field in the future and agreeing access to UK fishing waters for EU fleets the key sticking points.

She said the two sides would decide on Sunday “whether we have conditions for an agreement, or not”.

“One way or the other, in less than three weeks, it will be new beginnings for old friends,” she told a news conference after an all night summit of the 27 national EU leaders.

Negotiators have been given until Sunday to try to find a path forward, with the two sides split over the EU’s insistence that Britain can only trade freely into the EU if its companies continue to follow comparable standards, and London’s desire for autonomy.


Speaking after the summit, one EU official said the “situation is difficult” and that “main obstacles remain”.

“Probability of a no deal is higher than of a deal,” the official said.

Talks between Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier and his counterpart David Frost are resuming on Friday, and it will be "seen by Sunday whether a deal is possible".

UK prime minister Boris Johnson warned there is a "strong possibility" the UK will fail to broker a trade agreement and told the nation to prepare for no-deal at the end of the transition period this month.

Speaking on Thursday night, Taoiseach Micheál Martin appealed for a compromise to reach a breakthrough in talks and avoid damaging tariffs coming into force on trade with Britain from January 1st.

"I think the key to unlocking this is to stand back and look at the overall picture here. Ninety-seven per cent of this is agreed. Are we saying that we're going to lose out on a deal because of the 3 per cent?" Mr Martin said at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels.

“One final effort is required here. There will obviously be a need for compromise at the end of the day,” he added.

The European Commission on Thursday launched plans for emergency measures to temper the worst disruption expected without a deal on January 1st, including temporary legislation to allow planes to keep flying and trucks to keep travelling between the jurisdictions when current arrangements lapse overnight.

- Agencies