Boris Johnson to discuss Brexit negotiations in call with Ursula von der Leyen

Harriet Line, PA Deputy Political Editor
·3-min read

Boris Johnson and Brussels’ top official will speak on Thursday evening to discuss the state of play in the Brexit negotiations.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen would talk at 7pm UK time.

But Number 10 downplayed the chances of a breakthrough, suggesting it would only be a stocktake rather than a deal.

Negotiations between the UK and EU continued this week after they were given the green light following a meeting between Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen last Wednesday.

Despite days of talks, Michael Gove – the Cabinet Office Minister – said on Thursday that the chances of an agreement remained “less than 50%”.

He told the Commons Brexit Committee the “most likely outcome” was that the current transition period would end on December 31 without a deal.

“I think, regrettably, the chances are more likely that we won’t secure an agreement. So at the moment less than 50%,” Mr Gove said.

He also said the Government will not seek to negotiate a fresh trade agreement with the EU next year if they cannot reach a deal before the end of the Brexit transition period.

Mr Gove said that though talks with the EU had made progress, “significant” differences between the two sides remained.

“The process of negotiation has managed to narrow down areas of difference. It is certainly the case that there are fewer areas of difference now than there were in October or indeed July.”

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who has been holding talks with the UK team led by Lord Frost, said there had been “good progress” but the “last stumbling blocks remain”.

He said: “We will only sign a deal protecting EU interests and principles.”

His comments came as the European Parliament set down a three-day deadline for post-Brexit trade deal negotiators to strike a deal, warning that MEPs will not have time to ratify an agreement this year unless it is ready by Sunday night.

Presidents of the parliament’s political groups said it was ready to organise a plenary session by the end of the month, but on condition that “an agreement is reached by midnight on Sunday December 20″.

The House of Commons rose for Christmas at the close of Thursday’s business but MPs have been put on standby to be recalled if a trade deal is secured.

In other developments, the Ministry of Defence laid secondary legislation to provide Royal Navy Police with extra powers to patrol England and Wales’s territorial waters in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The powers, which would be reviewed after six months, will reportedly enable the Navy to board and arrest fishermen found to be contravening post-Brexit rules.

Meanwhile peers urged the Government to give food, farming and haulage businesses up to six months to adjust to the new export regime, warning that tonnes of food bound for Europe from Britain could be left to rot in lorries.

Lord Teverson, chairman of the EU Environment Sub-Committee, said: “Without clear, coordinated information it is impossible for businesses to adjust their practices, which will mean that from 1 January their produce may not be picked up by hauliers in the first place, might be turned around at the border, or in the worst case could spoil in vans because of the border delays arising.

“Industry wants to make the new arrangements work and has been heeding Government warnings to get ready, but ministers must explain exactly what the changes will be and provide the support that farmers and businesses need.”