Boris Johnson and the EU set a Sunday deadline for a “firm decision” on the fate of their negotiations on future relations after three hours of “open” talks in Brussels ended in a dead end.
A British government official said that following a dinner between Mr Johnson and the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at dinner in the Belgian capital, “there are huge gaps” between the two sides.
The prime minister flew back to London with allies late Wednesday evening and said there had been no “great progress” during talks at commission headquarters.
Ms. von der Leyen said after the meeting that the two leaders had “a lively and interesting discussion” and “gained a clear understanding of each other’s positions,” but admitted that “they are far apart”.
“We agreed that the teams should get together immediately to resolve these major issues,” she said. “We’ll make a decision by the end of the weekend.”
It looks like we’ve now reached the home track with the brakes and steering wheel locked
The meeting was billed by both sides as an attempt to unlock the talks with just under three weeks until Great Britain left the domestic market. However, it ended with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit that remains hanging over the negotiations.
The lack of a joint statement by the two leaders and Mr Johnson’s quick departure from the Berlaymont building after 11 p.m. on Wednesday indicated a bloody encounter. A British official said the talks were “open”.
Negotiations over EU demands to maintain fair competition for businesses and the fate of EU fishing rights in UK waters have stalled.
The two heads of government had agreed that “a firm decision on the future of the talks should be made by Sunday,” said the British government official. An EU official warned that Sunday would be a “crunch time” after the talks proved difficult on Wednesday evening.
The negotiations in the coming days will take place in Brussels, an EU official confirmed.
“It’s hard to see what could happen between now and Sunday to change the equation,” said an EU diplomat. “It looks like we’ve reached the home track with the brakes and steering wheel locked.”
Ms. von der Leyen will inform the heads of state and government of the EU about the results of the discussions at a summit meeting on Thursday in Brussels. EU ambassadors will also be informed about an update in the morning.
Before dinner, Mr Johnson had tweeted that Britain “would thrive mightily as an independent nation” whether the talks were successful or not. On Wednesday before, he had set his red lines in the House of Commons, which focused on his familiar topics of sovereignty and freedom of regulation.
Mr Johnson told MPs that the EU wanted to leave Britain as “the only country in the world that does not have sovereign control over its own fishing waters”.
He also claimed that if the UK deviated from future EU rules in areas such as labor standards and environmental policy, Brussels would “automatically have the right to punish us and take revenge”.
The question of how to develop a mechanism to ensure a level playing field between the EU and the UK is a key concern of EU capitals.
Chancellor Angela Merkel warned on Wednesday that Brussels would accept a no-deal outcome if the two sides couldn’t find a way to minimize the risk of unfair competition between their markets.
An EU official said before dinner that the Commission would shortly publish emergency measures to avoid the chaos if talks collapse. The measures are temporary and include basic regulations such as the right to continue cross-channel flights after January 1st.
The Commission’s decision to treat its British guest to a seafood menu with a scallop starter and a turbot main course with mashed potatoes raised some eyebrows in Brussels, and both sides argued over the fate of the € 650 million in fish The EU offers fishing boats every year in UK waters.
A particularly sensitive issue is the fate of centuries-old EU rights in the waters near the UK coast, where scallops are one of the most lucrative catches. In a no-deal Brexit, scallop exports to the EU would be subject to a 20 percent tariff.