Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 28 October 2020

Brexit

'Significant gaps' remain after Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen crunch phone call

The EU and UK leaders have instructed their chief negotiators to 'work intensively' to bridge differences

Ursula Von Der Leyen confirmed that a wide gap remains between the EU and UK after her call with Boris Johnson. Reuters
Ursula Von Der Leyen confirmed that a wide gap remains between the EU and UK after her call with Boris Johnson. Reuters

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen spoke on Saturday with Brexit trade talks in an increasingly perilous position.

A joint statement released after the call stressed "the importance of finding an agreement, if at all possible, as a strong basis for a strategic EU-UK relationship in future."

Both leaders concurred that progress had been made in recent weeks but said "that significant gaps remained, notably but not only in the areas of fisheries, the level playing field, and governance."

The chief negotiators, Michel Barnier for the EU and David Frost for the UK, were instructed to "work intensively" to resolve these differences.

The statement concluded by saying that both leaders had agreed "to speak on a regular basis on this issue."

Before the call, it had been speculated that the possibility of "tunnel" talks between the EU and UK would be raised. The speculation appears to have been misplaced, however.

If tunnel talks had been ratified, it would have granted the protagonists a period of time before the next EU summit on October 15 to conduct trade talks away from the scrutiny of the media.

Ms von der Leyen tweeted of the discussion:

Earlier on Saturday, Britain's Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said he was “optimistic” about the chances of sealing a post-Brexit trade agreement with the European Union, although he expects “there will be one or two ups and downs on the way”.

Mr Gove was speaking on the first day of the Conservative Party’s annual conference which is taking place online due to Covid-19 restrictions.

He said that trade talks had been a "tough process” and that a deal would be “hugely helpful” for all sectors of the UK economy which is reeling from a 19.8 per cent plunge in GDP in the second quarter of 2020. He emphasised that the UK had made “extensive preparations” for any outcome, however.

The cabinet office minister also commented on the tumultuous UK jobs market.

Following Finance Minister Rishi Sunak’s confirmation in September that the government's furlough scheme will finish at the end of October, Mr Gove admitted that that it was inevitable there would be some “churn” in the labour market.

He also called for more government departments and agencies to move outside London to leverage skills in the regions, arguing that the rise in working from home would allow Whitehall “decision-makers” to be dispersed around the country.

Updated: October 3, 2020 07:53 PM

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