scorecardThe UK and the EU have given themselves until Sunday to agree a trade deal or risk a chaotic Brexit
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The UK and the EU have given themselves until Sunday to agree a trade deal or risk a chaotic Brexit

Adam Payne   

The UK and the EU have given themselves until Sunday to agree a trade deal or risk a chaotic Brexit
PoliticsPolitics2 min read
  • The UK and EU have agreed to a deadline of Sunday to agree a Brexit trade deal.
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed to keep the talks going until then during a "frank" three-hour meal in Brussels on Wednesday night.
  • Spokespersons for the UK and EU said afterwards that they still remained far apart on key issues.
  • A 10 Downing Street source said it was "unclear whether these" gaps "can be bridged."

The UK has agreed with the European Union to continue Brexit negotiations until Sunday at the latest, at which point both sides will decide whether to abandon the process and risk Britain making a chaotic exit from the European Single Market on New Year's Eve.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson travelled to Brussels on Wednesday evening for a "frank discussion" with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over dinner about the state of Brexit trade deal negotiations.

The pair and their chief negotiators agreed that the two sides remained far apart on the thorny issues that have blighted talks for most of the year: fishing, rules for preventing unfair competition (also known as the "level playing field,") and how a final deal would be policed.

However, they agreed to continue negotiating until Sunday in a last-ditch attempt to strike a free trade agreement and avoid the worst-case scenario of a chaotic no-deal exit on New Year's Eve, just 18 days later.

Speaking following the three-hour dinner in Brussels, a 10 Downing Street spokesperson said: "They acknowledged that the situation remained very difficult and there were still major differences between the two sides.

"They agreed that Chief Negotiators would continue talks over the next few days and that a firm decision should be taken about the future of the talks by Sunday.

"The Prime Minister is determined not to leave any route to a fair deal untested, but any agreement must respect the independence and sovereignty of the UK."

A senior UK government source said that "very large gaps remain between the two sides and it is still unclear whether these can be bridged."

A spokesperson for the European Commission said von der Leyen and her team had "a lively and interesting discussion on the state of play across the list of outstanding issues" with Johnson and UK officials.

"We gained a clear understanding of each other´s positions. They remain far apart," they said.

The UK negotiating team led by David Frost will resume talks with their EU counterparts fronted by Michel Barnier on Thursday as the end of the Brexit transition period looms.

If the UK drops out the transition period without a trade deal, costly tariffs will be imposed on a range of goods sold between Britain and the EU from January 1. This would almost certainly lead to the price rises for everyday items like food and drink, with Tesco chairman John Allan warning this week that average prices could rise by five percent in a no-deal outcome.

The EU on Thursday morning announced a handful of emergency measures that it wanted to put in place with the UK's agreement, in order to mitigate some of the most severe effects of a no-deal outcome.

The European Commission has proposed a six-month period of "basic connectivity" for road and air travel, to avoid HGVs and planes being blocked from travelling between Britain and the EU, as well as current fishing arrangements to continue until the end of next year.