Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson records a televised message to the nation released on May 10, 2020 in London, England.
No 10 Downing Street | Getty Images
The European Union and the U.K. government have decided to intensify Brexit talks over the coming weeks amid growing concerns that both sides might fail to reach a trade deal by the end of the year.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke with European officials Monday, discussing ways to give new impetus to the trade negotiations, which after four initial rounds have not made any significant progress. The U.K. stopped being a full member of the EU in January, but it’s still in a transition phase so it can prepare for new trading rules with the rest of the EU.
The British government confirmed on Friday that it will not extend this transition and negotiating period beyond December. This means that pressure is growing on both sides to deliver a trade deal by October so it can be ratified and put in place for the new year.
“The EU is ready to intensify the talks, we are available 24/7. Let’s inject fresh momentum into the negotiations,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission — which negotiates on behalf of the 27 countries — said on Twitter just before a video call with the British prime minister on Monday.
A statement just after the talks said that parties had noted the U.K.’s decision not to request an extension and both sides agreed that new momentum was required in the talks. It also said that talks should include, if possible, finding an early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement.
So far, chief negotiators have complained about a lack of progress in the discussions, with the European Union blaming the British government for backtracking on previous commitments.
“We must now make progress on substance,” Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said last week. The main stumbling blocks are fisheries, state aid and checks on goods.
There are now plans to host weekly negotiations focused on these issues instead of monthly calls. The new work schedule will also include some face-to-face meetings in smaller groups if the coronavirus guidelines allow.
The uncertainty is another headache for exporters on both sides of the English Channel at a time of severe financial difficulty due to the pandemic.
The Confederation of British Industry warned last week that the lack of a new trade deal by the end of the year would be a “major block to recovery.”
EasyJet’s CEO Johan Lundgren told CNBC Monday that it would be “enormously important” to see progress in these negotiations amid the economic uncertainty.