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Johnson, Von der Leyen agree to extend Brexit talks

Brussels / The European Union and the United Kingdom on Sunday agreed to continue discussions on their post-Brexit relationship.

Earlier this week, both sides had made Sunday the deadline to achieve a resolution to the discussions, but these have now been extended after a phone call between British prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

“We had a useful phone call this morning. We discussed the major unresolved topics,” the leaders said in a joint statement.

“Our negotiating teams have been working day and night over recent days. And despite the exhaustion after almost a year of negotiations, despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over, we think it is responsible at this point to go the extra mile.

“We have accordingly mandated our negotiators to continue the talks and to see whether an agreement can even at this late stage be reached.”

It is unclear what developments — if any — have been made in the latest round of talks taking place this week in Brussels between teams led by the UK’s David Frost and the EU’s Michel Barnier.

Negotiations on the UK’s relationship with the EU after its withdrawal from the bloc on December 31 — particularly in policy areas relating to fair competition and fisheries — have made little progress since the transition period began nearly 12 months ago.

At the end of a European Council summit on Friday, von der Leyen said that the two sides “remain apart on fundamental issues.”

On Saturday, Johnson said that while he and his government “are hopeful that progress can be made”, he said that “it is looking very, very likely” that no trade deal would be signed.

“I think it would be wonderful for the UK, and we’d be able to do exactly what we want from January 1 – it obviously would be different from what we’d set out to achieve but I have no doubt this country can get ready and come out on World Trade terms.”

Johnson’s upbeat tone belies the difficulties that will arise in several areas should the two sides fail to reach a consensus.

From 1 January, customs controls will be carried out on goods crossing the Channel, even if there is a deal, given that the UK will be out of the EU’s single market and customs union.

A trade agreement would reduce the amount of bureaucracy required and speed up inspections, while a withdrawal without a deal in place would likely pave the way for a collapse at Channel ports. The British government is currently preparing for scenarios of queues of up to 7,000 trucks, each of which would have to wait up to two days to cross the Channel.

And without an agreement on aviation, a no-deal Brexit would ground flights between the UK and the EU from 1 January, although there is an expectation in the sector that both sides will establish contingency mechanisms to maintain air links, whatever is agreed.  (December 13, 2020, EFE/PracticaEspañol)

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