Brussels, Dec 9 (efe-epa).- Gaps between the positions of the European Union and the United Kingdom remained too wide to bridge on Wednesday, but the two sides said they will continue to seek a post-Brexit trade deal over the next few days and make a decision on the future of the talks by the end of the weekend.
The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived at that conclusion after a more than three-hour working dinner in Brussels, British diplomatic sources in Brussels said in a statement.
The two leaders “had a frank discussion about the significant obstacles which remain in the negotiations. Very large gaps remain between the two sides and it is still unclear whether these can be bridged,” it read.
Nevertheless, Johnson and Von der Leyen agreed to “further discussions over the next few days between their negotiating teams,” the statement said. Johnson “does not want to leave any route to a possible deal untested. (The two leaders) agreed that by Sunday a firm decision should be taken about the future of the talks.”
For her part, Von der Leyen said in a statement that the working dinner had been “lively and interesting.”
“We understand each other’s positions. They remain far apart,” she added. “The teams should immediately reconvene to try to resolve these issues. We will come to a decision by the end of the weekend.”
Competition rules, fisheries and enforcement mechanisms for the eventual pact remain the three critical, unresolved issues in the talks.
Before traveling to the Belgian capital, Johnson said the terms offered thus far by the European Union for a future bilateral relationship should be unacceptable to any British head of government.
“Our friends in the EU are currently insisting that if they pass a new law in the future with which we in this country do not comply or don’t follow suit, then they want the automatic right to punish us and to retaliate,” Johnson told members of Parliament. “They’re saying we should be the only country in the world not to have sovereign control over its fishing waters.”
For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed concern on Wednesday that the British side’s demands, if accepted, would result in the lack of a level playing field for European companies in the future.
“We are starting now from a similar, harmonized legal system, but over the years these legal systems will develop apart in the fields of environmental policy, labor policy or health policy,” Merkel, who currently holds the rotating EU presidency, told the Bundestag. “And we can’t just say, ‘we don’t talk about that.’ We need a level playing field not only for today but also for tomorrow and the time ahead, and for that we need an agreement on how either side can react if the other changes the legal system.”
A post-Brexit deal is to be ratified by both sides by Jan. 1, after the end of the 11-month transition period that was triggered earlier this year when the UK formally left the EU.
If no deal is in place, the trade system between the UK and the EU will default to less favorable World Trade Organization terms.
At a minimum, a no-deal scenario would entail a requirement for onerous customs checks at UK and EU ports with the potential for lengthy delays that would disrupt supply chains.
Each side would also be free to levy tariffs on imports from the other. EFE-EPA