“The Prime Minister will travel to Brussels tomorrow (Wednesday) for a dinner with von der Leyen to continue discussions on future UK-EU relations,” a Downing Street spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Ursula von der Leyen confirmed the meeting, saying on Twitter that she was “looking forward to welcoming the British Prime Minister” on Wednesday evening to “continue our discussions on the partnership agreement”.
With only three weeks of the final rupture, the obstacles to a compromise allowing to avoid a “no deal” remain the same. But the two parties have at least managed to agree on the application of the treaty which framed the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union on January 31.
A meeting in Brussels made it possible to reach an “agreement in principle” on customs arrangements specific to Northern Ireland, supposed to prevent the return of a border with the Republic of Ireland.
The British government will therefore withdraw articles from a controversial bill currently before Parliament, which sought to circumvent them but of its own admission violated international law, in the name of the need to ensure the continuity of trade between Ireland from North and Great Britain.
The European Union had launched an infringement procedure and European Parliament officials threatened not to ratify a possible free trade agreement if these measures were maintained.
The news has relieved Ireland, at the forefront of the shock that looms on December 31, when the United Kingdom will exit the single market and the customs union. “And I hope this is a sign that the UK is in the mood to come to an agreement and that the momentum will continue in the negotiations on the future relationship,” responded the Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney.
The end of the post-Brexit transition period is dangerously approaching, but discussions between the British and Europeans continue to stumble on the same three topics: European access to British waters, how to settle disputes in the future agreement and guarantees demanded of London in terms of competition in exchange for access without customs duties or quotas to its huge market.
“I am still optimistic, but I have to be honest with you, the situation at the moment is delicate. Our friends have to understand that the UK has left the EU in order to be able to exercise democratic control. We are still a long way from it,” Boris Johnson warned.
Look for a “political outcome”
For his part, the chief negotiator of the European Union Michel Barnier recalled that the EU would “never sacrifice (its) future” to conclude a post-Brexit agreement at the cost of concessions which would weaken its single market.
With this meeting between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, it is a question of “seeing if there is a political outcome”, the negotiators having gone “as far as they can”, declared the spokesman of M Johnson.
At the end of a telephone interview on Monday, Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen had drawn up a pessimistic report, believing that the conditions to finalize an agreement were “not met”.
Failure would require the preparation of emergency measures because a “no deal” would lead, from 1 January, to exchanges based on the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), synonymous with customs duties or quotas, potentially. devastating for economies already weakened by the pandemic.
If concluded, a trade deal – over 700 pages long – will still have to be ratified by the British and European Parliaments before entering into force on January 1, which appears increasingly acrobatic with the new extension of negotiations .