Boris Johnson to Go to Brussels to Break Brexit Deadlock

December 7, 2020 Updated: December 7, 2020

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will travel to Brussels for talks with European Union leaders, in a last-ditch attempt to break the deadlock in negotiations on post-Brexit trade.

The face-to-face meeting was arranged after Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen failed to make a breakthrough in a telephone conversation on Monday afternoon.

“As agreed on Saturday, we took stock today of the ongoing negotiations. We agreed that the conditions for finalising an agreement are not there due to the remaining significant differences on three critical issues: level playing field, governance and fisheries,” the two leaders said in a joint statement issued after the phone call.

“We asked our Chief Negotiators and their teams to prepare an overview of the remaining differences to be discussed in a physical meeting in Brussels in the coming days,” they said.

The bilateral negotiations on post-Brexit trade were paused on Friday, after EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost said the conditions for an agreement were not met and they needed to brief their respective leaders on “the state of play of the negotiations.”

Johnson and von der Leyen talked on the phone on Saturday afternoon and then instructed their negotiators to reconvene in Brussels on Sunday.

But Monday’s phone call did not produce the breakthrough needed to strike a deal, just a little more than three weeks before the UK is set to exit the EU’s single market and customs union.

The UK officially left the EU in January but entered a transition period in which trading arrangements—such as tariffs and quotas—remain unaltered. That period ends at midnight on Dec. 31.

If no trade deal with the EU is reached by then, Britain will default to trading with the 27 EU countries under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

UK negotiators are demanding that the deal respect the sovereignty that many Brexit voters felt was undermined by EU membership. However, the EU is unwilling to set up a deal too similar to deals with far-flung nations such as Canada, saying that the proximity of the UK brings different dynamics into play.

Simon Veazey contributed to this report.