British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said late Thursday that talks on post-Brexit trade were now in a “serious situation,” and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen admitted that bridging the remaining differences would be “very challenging.”
The two leaders made the comments after talking on the phone about the state of play in the bilateral negotiations.
Johnson said the UK was “making every effort to accommodate reasonable EU requests” on fair competition rules, which the EU insists are indispensable to maintaining a “level playing field” between businesses of the two sides, but “some fundamental areas remained difficult” despite the gap narrowing.
On fisheries, Johnson stressed that the UK “could not accept a situation where it was the only sovereign country in the world not to be able to control access to its own waters for an extended period and to be faced with fisheries quotas which hugely disadvantaged its own industry.”
He said the EU’s position was not reasonable and needed to shift “significantly” if a deal were to be struck.
For her part, von der Leyen said that despite progress, “big differences” remain, particularly on fisheries.
“Bridging them will be very challenging,” she wrote on Twitter after talking to Johnson.
Johnson said on Thursday that if no agreement could be reached, the UK and the EU would “part as friends, with the UK trading with the EU on Australian-style terms”—a euphemism the British government uses to refer to a no-deal Brexit, as Australia does not yet have a free trade agreement with the EU and trades with the bloc under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
The leaders agreed to remain in close contact, and the negotiations will continue on Friday.