Wednesday

27th Jan 2021

No-Deal Brexit now more likely, von der Leyen tells leaders

  • EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (r) greeting German chancellor Angela Merkel at the EU summit (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told EU leaders that Britain is more likely to break all ties with the EU on 31 December without a deal than with an agreement, an EU official said on Friday (11 December).

Negotiations will still continue at least until Sunday.

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But the commission chief told leaders there is now a higher probability for no deal than a deal - although she did not want to give a percentage, said the official on condition of anonymity.

A meeting between von der Leyen and British prime minister Boris Johnson earlier in the week did not bring any breakthrough in negotiations, which have been stuck on the issues of fair competition, fisheries and on how to resolve disputes.

Negotiators have essentially 48 hours left to clinch an agreement, as the UK severs all existing ties with the bloc a the end of the year, and any deal still needs to be ratified at least in the European Parliament.

Von der Leyen on Friday (11 December) said after a meeting of 27 EU leaders in Brussels that the UK and EU "positions remain apart on fundamental issues".

EU leaders themselves spent less than 10 minutes discussing the EU-UK negotiations on Thursday night.

"We will decide on Sunday whether we have the conditions for a deal or not," von der Leyen told reporters.

Johnson echoed the gloomy sentiment on Friday saying that there is a "strong possibility" talks would fail because Brussels wanted to keep the country "locked in the EU's orbit".

Negotiations did, however, resume on Friday in Brussels between EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart, David Frost.

Von der Leyen, in the press briefing, spelled out that the UK is free to make its own rules even under a deal, but the EU would protect its interest and curb access to its single market if Britain is in future undercutting its businesses.

"We have repeatedly made clear to our UK partners that the principle of fair competition is a precondition to privileged access to the EU market," the German commission chief said, adding that "it is only fair that competitors to our own enterprises face the same conditions in our own market."

"But this is not to say that we would require the UK to follow us every time we decide to raise our level ambitions, for example in the environmental field, they would remain free, sovereign if you wish, to decide what they want to do," she said.

"We would simply adapt the conditions for access to our market according [to] the decision of the UK, and this would apply vice-versa," von der Leyen added.

Irish prime minister Micheal Martin said he still hoped a deal would be possible.

"Huge challenges remain on an EU/UK trade deal. I hope common sense will prevail. A deal is in the best interests of Ireland, the EU and the UK," he tweeted after the summit.

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