Brussels/London, Dec 17 (efe-epa).- European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated Thursday that a divergence over fishing rights is the main obstacle to reaching agreement by Dec. 31 on new rules to govern trade between the European bloc and the United Kingdom post Brexit.
The two leaders spoke by telephone Thursday evening to evaluate the prospects for success.
“We welcomed substantial progress on many issues,” Von der Leyen said on Twitter after the call. “Yet big differences remain to be bridged, in particular on fisheries. Bridging them will be very challenging.”
The parties are supposed to ratify a post-Brexit deal by both sides by Jan. 1, which will mark the end of the 11-month transition period triggered when the UK formally left the EU.
Johnson and Von der Leyen initially set a deadline of last Sunday for agreement on a text, but when Sunday arrived with no accord in sight, they instructed their negotiating teams to keep talking.
“The Prime Minister underlined that the negotiations were now in a serious situation,” Johnson’s office said in a statement following the call.
Johnson, according to the statement, told Von der Leyen that “it now looked very likely that agreement would not be reached unless the EU position changed substantially.”
The premier was adamant in rejecting the EU’s present stance on fisheries, describing as “simply not reasonable.”
“On fisheries he stressed that the UK could not accept a situation where it was the only sovereign country in the world not to be able to control access to its own waters for an extended period and to be faced with fisheries quotas which hugely disadvantaged its own industry,” Johnson’s office said.
“The Prime Minister repeated that little time was left,” the UK statement said.
Earlier Thursday, senior members of the European Parliament said they would need to see a draft text of any proposed accord by Dec. 21 to be able to hold a ratification vote by Dec. 31.
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.
This week, the European Commission – the EU’s executive arm – approved a package of contingency measures in the event of no deal, including steps to minimize disruptions to travel and transportation. EFE