What are the sticking points in Brexit talks?
The UK has insisted that it will take back control of its coastal waters from the end of the transition period.
But the EU was demanding its fleets maintain previous levels of access – with Emmanuel Macron under particular pressure from the French fishing industry.
Initially the UK said it wanted to reclaim 80 per cent of the EU quotas from January 1.
However, Brussels suggested that only 18 per cent should be restored.
The two sides are thought to be close to a ‘landing zone’ that includes a transition period, perhaps of five or seven years. However, there is no settlement yet.
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
The EU has insisted the UK commits to ‘level playing field’ provisions, guaranteeing that it will not undercut businesses with lower environmental standards and regulation.
State aid has emerged as a particular issue, especially as coronavirus puts swathes of the economy unviable.
But the UK says it must regain sovereign powers to decide on rules, even though it has no plans to lower standards or warp competition by subsidising the private sector.
It appeared this area was close to resolution last week, before France reportedly laid down a series of extra conditions including huge punishments for breaking the rules.
Although the UK is happy with ‘non-regression’ – meaning current standards are accepted as a baseline – it has dismissed demands to obey rules made by the bloc in future.
The enforcement of any deal, and who decides whether rules are broken, has been one of the flashpoints from the start.
Breaking free of the European Court of Justice was among the biggest demands of Brexiteers from the referendum.
But the EU has been pushing to keep control of the governance, as well as insisting on tough fines and punitive tariffs for breaches.
The situation has been inflamed by the row over the UK’s Internal Market Bill, which gives ministers the power to override the previous Brexit divorce terms to prevent blockages between Britain and Northern Ireland.
Critics say that demonstrated why the enforcement mechanisms must be potent – which is why ministers had considered it important the issue was resolved.
Dominic Raab accused the EU of failing to respect ‘democracy’ today as leaders prepare to push the button on no deal Brexit plans at a crunch summit.
The Foreign Secretary condemned the bloc for demanding unacceptable concessions on UK sovereignty, saying progress can only be made on trade talks if it is more ‘pragmatic and flexible’.
The tough words came as European leaders gather in Brussels amid signs of growing nerves among member states – with warnings that the ‘worst outcome’ for both sides is about to become a reality.
Boris Johnson and EU commission chief Usula von der Leyen took stock of the dire situation for more than three hours as they dined on steamed turbot and scallops – the source of many skirmishes between UK and French fishing boats – in the Belgian capital last night.
But the pair could not find a way through the impasse, and instead ordered Michel Barnier and Lord Frost to re-engage, on the understanding that unless a resolution has emerged by Sunday the plug will be pulled.
As concerns about the consequences of no deal escalated, the EU commission today published contingency plans today designed to keep trucks running and planes in the sky.
Unveiling the documents, Ms von der Leyen tweeted: ‘Negotiations are still ongoing but the end of the transition is near.
‘There is no guarantee that if & when an agreement is found it can enter into force on time.
‘We have to be prepared including for not having a deal in place on 1 January.’
Mr Raab lashed out at ‘scare stories’ about food shortages during a round of interviews this morning.
He played down warnings that the public is already stockpiling essential goods.
‘On the fisheries, we’ve accepted that there needs to be some sort of transitional period but we must be able to control access to our own waters,’ he said.
‘We’ve agreed that we’d follow the EU’s approach to free trade deals with countries like Canada and Korea in relation to the so called level playing field requirements.
‘What we’re not going to be treated… is in a way that no other country would accept, and nor would the EU accept.
‘It’s about some basic respect for democratic principles.
‘We’re ready to leave the transition period – we would much prefer a deal, no stone is being left unturned – but otherwise we’ll make a success of Brexit on Australian-style rules.’
Mr Raab said he would not ‘categorically rule out any more talks after Sunday, but it was ‘unlikely’.
Despite the grim mood music, there have been hopes that the talks can still be rescued if new political instructions emerge from the meeting of EU leaders today and tomorrow.
But there are also fears that Emmanuel Macron – seen as the most hawkish on no deal – could see the summit as a platform for a De Gaulle-style ‘non’ moment.
French diplomats have suggested that the damage to the UK from no deal will be so great that Mr Johnson will crawl back to the negotiating table within months.
However, Downing Street has flatly ruled out any more negotiations happening in 2021 if this round fails.
Government sources confirmed that Lord Frost and Mr Barnier will resume talks in the Belgian capital today in a bid to resolve the outstanding issues.
In a gloomy assessment last night, a No10 source said Mr Johnson did not want to leave ‘any route to a possible deal untested’. ‘The PM and Ursula von der Leyen had a frank discussion about the significant obstacles which remain in the negotiations,’ the source said.
‘Very large gaps remain between the two sides and it is still unclear whether these can be bridged. The PM and Ms von der Leyen agreed to further discussions over the next few days between their negotiating teams.
‘The PM does not want to leave any route to a possible deal untested. The PM and Ms von der Leyen agreed that by Sunday a firm decision should be taken about the future of the talks.’
Ms von der Leyen said in a statement: ‘We had a lively and interesting discussion on the state of play on outstanding issues. We understand each other’s positions.
‘They remain far apart. The teams should immediately reconvene to try to resolve these issues. We will come to a decision by the end of the weekend.’
Mr Barnier and Lord Frost have wrangled unsuccessfully for months over access to UK waters, level playing field rules and how to enforce the terms, and finally admitted earlier this week that they could not make any more progress.
Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen seemed to be in a cheerful mood ahead of their meeting in Brussels – but it did not produce any movement in the trade talks
The deadlock on Brexit is continuing today despite the last-ditch diplomacy from Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, pictured in Brussels last night
In a round of interviews today, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the EU for demanding unacceptable concessions on UK sovereignty, saying progress can only be made on trade talks if it is more ‘pragmatic and flexible’
As the leaders posed for pictures, Ms von der Leyen reminded him of the need for social distancing – with Brussels in the midst of a tough coronavirus lockdown
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels
Boris Johnson in Brussels, Belgium, for a dinner with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen where they will try to reach a breakthrough on a post-Brexit trade deal
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen remove their mask as they meet in the Berlaymont building at the EU headquarters in Brussels
Ms von der Leyen today published no deal contingency plans in another sign that the crisis is deepening
Something fishy going on? EU serve PM seafood-dominated dinner of scallops and turbot amid fishing rights row
The PM dined on a starter of scallops and a main course of steamed turbot when he met with EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.
The two leaders were joined by their chief negotiators and officials for the three-course dinner at the Berlaymont building aimed at breaking the deadlock in the protracted trade deal talks.
Negotiations have faltered on fishing rights, among other issues, and the Commission’s menu will be seen as a pointed gesture by some but a sign that it has a sense of humour by others.
Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen were served pumpkin soup and scallops to start, followed by a main course of steamed turbot, mashed potatoes with wasabi and vegetables.
For pudding they ate pavlova with exotic fruit and coconut sorbet, but the Commission stopped short of serving the Eton Mess – believed to originate from the PM’s alma mater.
The starter may invoke memories of the ‘scallop wars’ in 2018 when British and French fishing fleets clashed in a dispute about access to fishing grounds in the Baie de Seine.
But the fish-themed menu will certainly remind Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen of the headache they face in reaching an agreement on access to the UK’s waters after December 31.
Mr Raab said the Prime Minister would ‘leave no stone unturned’ in the search for a deal but ‘significant differences’ remain.
He told Sky News: ‘We are not going to sacrifice the basic points of democratic principle on fisheries, on control over our laws as we leave the transition period.
‘I think it’s important that is recognised on the EU side and if they do I think the scope for a deal is still there to be done.’
But so far ‘frankly we have not seen enough pragmatism and flexibility on the EU side’.
The Foreign Secretary sought to play down the impact on food prices, but acknowledged there will be ‘bumps along the road’.
Tesco chairman John Allan suggested food bills could rise by as much as 5 per cent as a result of the tariffs and disruption from a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Raab told the BBC ‘I don’t think that’s a figure that we recognise’ and tariffs would be a ‘very minor proportion’ of food prices.
He said: ‘Of all the things that will be a challenge, I am not concerned about either supermarket cupboards running bare or the cost of food prices.
‘Equally, there will be some bumps along the road if we don’t get a free trade deal, that’s the inevitable consequence of change.
‘But we will be well braced and well prepared to deal with those, and we are going to make a success of leaving the transition period, come what may.’
Mr Raab conceded that EU coronavirus rules on travel from non-member states could disrupt Britons.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Covid restrictions will depend on the combination of what the EU decides, but also member states.
‘We have already got challenges with that and we have put our own restrictions in place.’
He acknowledged that coronavirus ‘remains a live issue and we need to make sure we have got control of it’.
‘I’m afraid restriction on travel, inevitably, is going to be something that is kept under review.’
Asked whether that would mean Britons will find it difficult to go to the European mainland he said: ‘It all depends on the prevalence of the virus in those continental European countries.’
As leaders started arriving for the summit in Brussels, Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven said he was ‘gloomy’ about the prospects for an agreement.
‘It’s a difficult situation,’ he said as he arrived at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
Mr Lofven said: ‘I’m a bit more gloomy today. As far as I can hear there is no progress made in the recent days.
‘It’s problematic, of course, so that is a huge challenge.
‘We have always said that we are preparing for the worst, hoping for the best.’
Mr Johnson set the tone for the showdown yesterday by telling MPs no prime minister could accept the demands the EU is making, which include obeying rules it makes in the future, as well as those currently in place.
In a bullishly optimistic performance at PMQs, Mr Johnson said the UK would ‘prosper mightily’ with or without an agreement – even though the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has suggested the collapse of talks would knock two percent off GDP next year.
Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey has warned that the long-term damage from falling back on World Trade Organisation terms would be worse than the economic hit from coronavirus.
Tory MPs urged Mr Johnson to stick to his guns, insisting his pledge to ‘take back control’ and put sovereignty first must not be sacrificed to get a deal. But Sir Keir Starmer accused the PM of bungling the negotiations, swiping: ‘Secure the deal, Prime Minister. You promised it.’
Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick waded into the crisis last night, telling ITV’s Peston that while there had been ‘good discussion’ between the PM and Ms von der Leyen, there are still ‘very significant areas of disagreement’ and that had been ‘no clear movement in the right direction’.
The Housing Secretary said: ‘It sounds as if, from the conversations I’ve had with the Prime Minister’s team tonight, that there are still very significant areas of disagreement.
‘So I don’t want to give false hope, but he did conclude with Ursula von der Leyen that we should get the teams back together in the coming days and they will work hard to see if there is a way forward until Sunday.’
Shoppers ‘could face shortage of fresh food after no deal Brexit’
Shoppers may face temporary shortages of some fresh foods and price hikes if the UK fails to secure a trade deal with the European Union, the chairman of Tesco has warned.
John Allan also said shoppers could turn to buying UK-produced items when imported goods jump in price due to import taxes.
He told the BBC import taxes could push the price of brie cheese up by 40 per cent and may mean British shoppers opt for cheddar instead.
Mr Allan warned food bills could climb by 5% on average in the event of a no-deal scenario, with specific products likely to increase significantly more.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Thursday he is ‘not concerned’ about potential food price rises or shortages if the Government fails to strike a trade deal.
But Mr Allan insisted impending tariffs will increase prices.
He told Bloomberg: ‘Those almost inevitably are going to lead to higher prices, and I think if we go out on a no-deal basis that is unavoidable.’
He warned there is likely to be disruption during the transition period which could impact the transport of some foods and lead to empty shelves.
Mr Allan said: ‘We may see some shortages of fresh foods, particularly short-life fresh foods.
‘I think that will only be for a limited period, perhaps a month or two, before we get back to normal.
‘I don’t think there is any reason at all for any consumer to panic or panic-buy at the moment.
‘There is still going to be plenty of food in the UK – there may just be slightly restricted choice for a period of time.’
Alongside its grocery competitors, Tesco has been stockpiling long-life items in its warehouses in preparation for a no-deal.
Last month, Sainsbury’s raised concerns that the supply of some fish, dairy and meat products to its stores in Northern Ireland could be significantly reduced next year due to Brexit.
Asked if the UK was closer to a deal, he said: ‘I think there was a good discussion, but there was no clear movement in the right direction.’
Responding to the development, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: ‘One year after Boris Johnson promised us an oven-ready deal he has completely failed. The failure to deliver the deal he promised is his and his alone.’
Labour’s shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves said: ‘The Prime Minister promised an oven-ready deal. He needs to get it done so we can focus on what matters to the British people: securing our economy, protecting our NHS and rebuilding our country.’
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford called a no deal Brexit ‘a massive failure of diplomacy and leadership which @BorisJohnson has to take ownership of’.
He tweeted:‘On top of the health & economic impact of covid this is self induced self harm. Disruption to trade, tariffs, higher prices and lost jobs is never a price worth paying.’
As Mr Johnson arrived at the Berlaymont building last night, he was given a reminder by Ms von der Leyen of the need for social distancing – with Brussels in the midst of a tough coronavirus lockdown.
As the two leaders posed for the cameras, the Prime Minister asked if they were taking their masks off. The commission president agreed, but told Mr Johnson to ‘keep distance’ as they briefly removed their face coverings. Ms von der Leyen added: ‘Then we have to put it back on. You have to put it back on immediately.’
The Prime Minister responded, saying: ‘You run a tight ship here, Ursula, and quite right too.’ The pair then headed off for a one-on-one meeting, before dinner.
Around the table with the PM and Ms von der Leyen were the chief negotiators Mr Barnier and Lord Frost, as well as a few other key officials.
The menu for such meals is always closely watched for hints of the mood and subtle jokes by the host.
And this occasion was no exception, with two seafood courses in an apparent nod to the bitter dispute over fishing rights for UK waters.
The starter was pumpkin soup and scallops; while the main was steamed turbot and mashed potatoes with wasabi and vegetables.
Desert was Pavolova with exotic fruit and coconut sorbet.
In the Commons yesterday, Mr Johnson insisted a ‘good deal is still there to be done’ despite the increasingly bitter standoff.
But he made clear that there will need to be movement on the EU’s side if there is to be a trade accord agreed and rolled out before of the end of the ‘standstill’ transition period on December 31.
The no deal plans unveiled by the EU commission today are designed to keep trucks running and planes in the sky – but also have an intriguing element on fisheries, suggesting that reciprocal access could be continued for another year
The Prime Minister left Downing Street in the late afternoon before then flying to the Belgian capital along with the UK’s chief negotiator Lord Frost
‘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,’ Mr Johnson told MPs.
‘Secondly, they are saying that the UK should be the only country in the world not to have sovereign control over its fishing waters. I don’t believe that those are terms that any prime minister of this country should accept.’
Earlier, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove cautioned that Mr Johnson could pull the plug on negotiations unless the EU shifts on the sticking points of fishing rights, ‘level-playing field’ rules and enforcement of the deal.
He suggested the ‘glide path’ had been made easier by a settlement of another major row over the implementation of the original Brexit divorce terms.
But he insisted the UK will never bow to pressure over future rules and regulations – proposals that dramatically resurfaced last week after a fresh offensive from Michel Barnier and French president Emmanuel Macron.
Mr Gove said the premier would spell out the ‘political realities’ with Ms von der Leyen later.
As pressure grew yesterday, Mr Barnier – who increasingly looks to be a major roadblock to an agreement – warned the chances of a deal are ‘very slim’.
Mr Johnson yesterday offered a significant olive branch by agreeing to scrap controversial legislation that broke part of the original Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland.
The EU had said it would not sign an agreement if the legislation remained.
In another major concession the EU will be allowed to have officials stationed in Northern Ireland, a sticking point on which Britain had previously stood firm.
The DUP called it ‘unnecessary’ and ‘concerning’, while Brexiteers made clear they will be watching closely to see if Mr Johnson cedes further ground to Ms von der Leyen.
Who is Ursula von der Leyen, the EU chief who was once tipped as Angela Merkel’s successor?
Ursula von der Leyen took over as President of the European Commission from Jean-Claude Juncker in December 2019.
Since then, the start of her five-year term in office has been dominated by two issues: Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.
The 62-year-old is a staunch defender of the EU project and has previously called for a ‘United States of Europe’ with its own army.
She previously served as defence secretary in Germany and was once viewed as a potential successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The mother-of-seven has experienced a rapid political rise, only entering politics in her 40s.
She has a medical degree and studied at the London School of Economics as well as Stanford in the US.
The qualified gynaecologist regularly emerged in opinion polls as one of Germany’s most popular politicians before she made the switch to Brussels.
She is the daughter of Brussels-born Eurocrat Ernst Albrecht, a senior German politician who worked in the EU Commission in the 1950s.
She revealed last year that she spent a year in London in the 1970s hiding from notorious German communist terrorists.
She spent 12 months in the ‘seething, international, colourful city’ to avoid the baader-Meinhof Gang, a hard Left group that carried out a string of bomb attacks and assassinations.
She came to London after attending university in the German city of Gottingen, with police advising her father, who was PM of Lower Saxony, to move her away.
But government sources said big gaps remained between the two sides on key issues – and warned that the PM could pull the plug on negotiations if no progress was made.
One source said the two sides were too far apart for a deal to be struck last night. But Mr Johnson hopes the two leaders can identify a breakthrough which their negotiators can finalise in the following days.
‘The aim is to unlock things so they can give their teams the authority to keep going and finalise the issues,’ the source said.
‘But if they strike out and make no progress then that is going to be it – there is no point carrying on for the sake of it.’
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she did not believe it would be clear yesterday whether a deal will be done.
‘I don’t think we will know by tomorrow if this will happen or not, at least I can’t promise this but we are still working on it,’ she told the Bundestag.
‘But we are also prepared for conditions we cannot accept. So if there are conditions coming from the British side which we cannot accept, then we will go on our own way without an exit agreement. Because one thing is certain: the integrity of the single market has to be maintained.’
Mrs Merkel said the ‘big, difficult question’ was over the rules on obeying future regulations, with the EU fearing the UK will gain a competitive advantage by refusing to follow its standards.
‘There are a number of complicated questions, which mostly are down to how to deal with the dynamic,’ she said.
‘We currently more or less have the same legal system, a harmonised legal system, but over the years the legal systems will diverge regarding environment law, labour law, health legislation, everywhere.
‘And how will the respective other side react to this, when the legal situation either in the European union or in Great Britain will change? And we can’t just say we won’t talk about this, but we not only need a level playing field for today but also for days to come.
‘For this we need to find agreements about how each side can react when the other changes their legal situation. Otherwise there will be unfair competition conditions, which we can’t do to our companies.’
In a round of interviews yesterday, Mr Gove refused to give a percentage chance for a deal.
‘I’m hopeful that the Prime Minister will be able to lay out, over the course of dinner, where movement is required,’ he told Sky news.
‘The conversation between the Prime Minister and the president tonight, I hope, will create further political momentum, which will make sure that we do reach an agreement.’
Mr Gove insisted the UK ‘holds the cards’ in the talks, with fishing rights and as a major purchaser of EU goods. That was why the bloc had been trying to ‘claw back advantage’ over the past week, he argued.
‘I think that the political realities that he will share with Ursula von der Leyen tonight give us the best chance of reaching a deal,’ Mr Gove added.
Boris Johnson departs the EU commission’s Berlaymont building HQ after failing to get a breakthrough during long talks with Ursula von der Leyen
Boris Johnson arrives back at the British embassy after his three-hour dinner with Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels
Boris Johnson walks from an airplane after arriving from Brussels at RAF Northolt near London
Boris Johnson sits in a car after arriving from Brussels at RAF Northolt near London