European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that a post-Brexit trade agreement needs to be reached until Sunday or face a no-deal scenario. 

“We gained a clear understanding of each other’s positions. They remain far apart,” von der said in a statement following a dinner with Johnson aimed at giving political impetus to the talks. The two sides also agreed that their negotiation teams should “immediately reconvene” to try to resolve these “essential” issues.

“We will come to a decision by the end of the weekend,” the statement adds. 

Their dinner meeting came ahead of an EU summit, scheduled for December 10-11, during which, von der Leyen will brief EU27 leaders on the outcome of the discussions and on whether a deal is possible.

Earlier in the day, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had stated that the bloc is preparing for a no-deal scenario, as the integrity of the internal market needs to be secured. 

“We are also prepared, if there are conditions on the British side that we cannot accept, to go down a path that is without an exit agreement. For one thing is clear: It must be possible to guarantee the integrity of the internal market,” Merkel told lawmakers in the German parliament. 

An announcement by the European Commission issued on Thursday morning reads that while the EU is doing its “utmost” to reach a mutually beneficial agreement with the UK, there is still “significant uncertainty” whether a trade deal could come into force by January 1. 

In a bid to cater for the period during which there is no agreement in place, the EU Executive Arm on Thursday put forward a set of targeted contingency measures that will ensure basic reciprocal air and road connectivity between the two sides, and that will also allow for the possibility of reciprocal fishing access by the EU and UK vessels to each other’s waters. 

“Negotiations are still ongoing. However, given that the end of the transition is very near, there is no guarantee that if and when an agreement is found, it can enter into force on time,” the Commission President said in a statement. 

For any agreement to come into force, the European Parliament needs to give its nod. The EU has frequently warned that its lawmakers will need some time to process any deal before ratifying it during their plenary session, scheduled for mid-December.

The two sides have still to bridge their differences in crucial fields including EU access to UK fishing waters, a level playing field for businesses and dispute settlement arrangements, before the deadline for the transition period expires at the end of the year. Should they not manage to reach a deal, the EU and the UK will need to trade on the terms foreseen by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).


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