January 18, 2021

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Brexit: EU-UK trade talks to continue past deadline — von der Leyen

Although the two sides have not yet reached a deal, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave a short statement, saying the two sides have decided to “go the extra mile” to clinch an agreement.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen read out a statement after a call with the British premier

Britain and the EU say they will continue talks on a free trade agreement beyond a self-imposed deadline on Sunday.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was “responsible at this point in time to go the extra mile” to reach a deal.

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

The joint statement she read out on television came after talks with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

European Council President Charles Michel welcomed the decision to go on with talks, saying that everything possible should be done to reach a “good deal.”

Sunday’s deadline was just the last in a series of such self-imposed cutoff dates, but time is running short, with a transition period due to end on December 31.

Early-morning talks

Earlier, the chief negotiators from the European Union and United Kingdom on Sunday continued efforts to reach a deal on the UK’s future trading relationship with the bloc as the deadline loomed at the end of the day.

The EU’s Michel Barnier and the UK’s David Frost started talks just after dawn in a bid to reach agreement. Negotiations have already been running for almost a year.

Frost reportedly left the talks after 1 1/2 hours to return to the UK diplomatic mission in Brussels.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also said everything that is possible should be done to reach a deal.

Frost talked only briefly with Barnier on Sunday

Hardened stances

The UK officially left the EU on January 31 but trade and other sectors remain within the bloc’s structures until the end of the year.

Talks on a deal have so far failed largely because of the UK’s insistence that it should trade with the bloc with as few restraints as possible and the EU’s equally obstinate stance that Britain must stick to EU rules to ensure fair competition.

The UK claims the EU is wanting to thwart Britain’s status as an independent and sovereign nation by forcing it to obey the bloc’s rules. The EU, in turn, fears that Britain could drastically lower its social and environmental standards while subsidizing UK industry with state money, thus creating a low-regulation economic rival hovering at its margins.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday that there was probably “a long way to go.”

UK Prime Minister Johnson also failed to reach a deal at talks with European Commission President von der Leyen

Likely chaos

If no deal is reached in the continued talks, time will be short to prepare for likely chaos on January 1, with imports into and exports out of the UK negatively affected.

Without a deal, the UK will have to trade with the EU under World Trade Organization rules — a system British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been euphemistically calling the “Australian” model. That would entail numerous tariffs and barriers.

Other issues hampering the talks have been differences over the legal oversight of any deal and fishing rights in UK waters.

Johnson, who has said it is “very, very likely” that negotiations will fail, insists the UK will thrive whether or not a deal is reached.

tj/mm (AP, Reuters, AFP, DW)