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Britain, EU strike pessimistic tone in post-Brexit trade talks

Britain and the European Union struck a pessimistic tone in trade talks on Thursday, with a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying it was “very likely” there would be no agreement unless the bloc changed its position “substantially”.

Just over two weeks before Britain finally leaves the bloc’s orbit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was also downbeat, saying it would be “very challenging” to overcome the “big differences” that remained.

Both sides have called on the other to shift position to try to safeguard almost a trillion dollars worth of trade from tariffs and quotas when a so-called transition period ends on Dec. 31.

Since Britain left the EU in January, the talks have been largely hamstrung over two issues – the bloc’s fishing rights in British waters and on creating a so-called level playing field providing fair competition rules for both sides.

After a call between Johnson and von der Leyen to take stock on the talks, a spokesman for the British leader said: “The prime minister underlined that the negotiations were now in a serious situation.”

Since Britain formally left the EU on Jan. 31 it has been in a transition period under which rules on trade, travel and business remain unchanged, with the country still within the EU customs union and single market. Many deadlines have been missed in the talks to find a trade deal.

Johnson, the face of the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign, has long said he will not accept a deal that fails to respect British sovereignty after winning an election last year on a pledge to “take back control”.

An EU official who spoke on condition of anonymity said disagreements over fisheries were not yet resolved but that intensive talks on a way forward on quotas and a transition period were under way. Two EU diplomats and an EU official said they did not expect a deal to come together by Friday.

The European Parliament said it could hold an emergency plenary in late December if a deal is reached by Monday. If it came later EU diplomats said the bloc might still put it in place from Jan. 1, without lawmakers’ consent.

Britain, EU strike pessimistic tone in post-Brexit trade talks, Reuters, Dec 18

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