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Johnson, EU Chief To Hold Emergency Meeting As Brexit Talks Stall

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at a news conference addressing the government’s response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, at 10 Downing Street in London on March 12, 2020.  SIMON DAWSON / POOL / AFP

British and European negotiators broke off their talks on a post-Brexit trade deal without agreement Friday and handed off the task of clearing the logjam to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen.

The leaders will hold a telephone call on Saturday after their envoys Michel Barnier and David Frost broke up after an arduous week of day and night meetings without a breakthrough.

“We agreed today that the conditions for an agreement are not met, due to significant divergences on level playing field, governance and fisheries,” the EU’s Barnier and UK’s Frost said, in a tweeted joint statement.

“We agreed to pause the talks in order to brief our principals on the state of play of the negotiations. President Von der Leyen and Prime Minister Johnson will discuss the state of play tomorrow afternoon,” they said.

Barnier was expected to leave London, and the leaders’ call will take place late on Saturday afternoon.

The pause to talks that have dragged on for eight months came despite a tight deadline, with Britain due to leave the EU single market on December 31 with or without a follow-on trade agreement.

A deal is needed to avoid deep disruptions to both economies — but especially Britain’s — that have already been brought low by the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the tight timetable, on Friday France threatened to veto any deal that fails short of their demands on ensuring fair trade and access to UK fishing waters.

Last-minute debates were also taken up by haggling over an enforcement mechanism to govern any deal.

“If there’s a deal that isn’t a good one, we’d oppose it,” France’s minister for European affairs Clement Beaune told Europe 1 radio, adding: “Every country has the right to veto”.

A European diplomat told AFP that Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark share France’s concerns that in the rush to conclude a deal, Barnier will give too much ground on rules to maintain fair competition.

Britain’s nearest neighbours suspect Germany and the European Commission are too keen to agree a deal to avoid damaging economic fallout.

“The Union has made the necessary gestures to reach a compromise. It is up to the British to make a move,” said French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll.

‘Time in very short supply’
Germany currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency and is also the bloc’s biggest economy and most influential member.

Asked about the state of the talks, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said Europe “is ready to reach an agreement with Great Britain, but not at any price”.

Thus far, the European capitals have remained united behind Barnier, who has been battling Frost as Johnson faces his own choice about whether to compromise.

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