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Boris Johnson Heads to Brussels for Crisis Talks: Brexit Update

A Pro Europa supporter holds European Union (EU) and a British Union flags during a gathering by the cross party Pro-EU anti-Brexit group in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. The European Parliament approved Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, clearing the way for the U.K. to leave the EU on Jan. 31 with an agreement that, for the time being, will avoid a chaotic rupture. Photographer: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Bloomberg

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed to meet in person in the coming days in an effort to find a way around the impasse in trade talks.

During a phone call on Monday evening, Johnson and von der Leyen concurred that the conditions are not yet there for a deal and asked their chief negotiators to prepare a summary of the remaining differences.

They commented in a joint statement.

Read more: The Cost of Failure: What’s at Stake If Brexit Talks Founder

Key Developments:

  • U.K. rules out extending talks into next year
  • EU officials say Wednesday is cut-off point for a deal
  • Ireland says frustration is growing

From Bloomberg Opinion: No-Deal Brexit Would Inflict Pain on Europe, Too: Lionel Laurent

Johnson and Von der Leyen to Meet (8 p.m. Brussels time)

Johnson and von der Leyen plan to meet face-to-face in Brussels and have asked their negotiating teams to prepare an overview briefing on the state of play, according to a joint statement.

The two sides are still far apart with “significant differences” on three key issues of fisheries, fair competition rules, and the governance of any deal, the statement said.

Ireland Says Frustration Is Growing With the U.K. (7:45 p.m.)

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said there’s a great deal of frustration growing within the EU as efforts to broker a deal continue. Speaking to broadcaster RTE, he said some countries are becoming “resigned” to the idea of no deal and the mood in the bloc is starting to shift toward contingency planning for the U.K. crashing out of the single market and customs union without an accord.

New problems have emerged on fishing rights, he said. Still, he welcomed the British move to potentially drop elements of the Internal Markets Bill, describing it as an attempt by the U.K. to inject some trust into the negotiations.

Fight Goes On Over Fish (6 p.m)

Just when the EU thought a solution to the issue of access to British fishing waters was coming into view, the U.K. made a new demand late on Sunday, two EU diplomats said.

The U.K. proposed that under any deal it struck, it would allow only boats whose ownership is majority British to be classed as such, according to the two diplomats briefed on the talks. This could significantly restrict how many EU boats would be able to access U.K. waters irrespective of what’s agreed on quotas.

U.K. Minister: Deal Is Still Possible (5:20 p.m.)

U.K. Cabinet Office Minister Penny Mordaunt said a deal is still possible, but the disagreement over the level playing field is proving the most difficult to resolve.

“These negotiations are continuing because a deal is still possible, and we will continue to negotiate until that ceases to be the case,” she told the House of Commons on Monday.

Mordaunt said that while a resolution to the talks tonight would be “jolly nice,” she wasn’t hinting at one.

U.K. Signals Climb-Down on Law-Breaking Bill (4:40 p.m.)

The U.K. signaled it is prepared to back down from its threat to break international law by unilaterally rewriting parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

In a statement on Monday, the government said it may delete the most controversial clauses of the Internal Market Bill if they are no longer needed as a safety net.

The Internal Market Bill would give U.K. ministers powers to determine what goods entering Northern Ireland are at risk of being moved in to the EU and therefore could be subject to tariffs. The EU has threatened legal action over the legislation, which it says breaks the terms of the original Brexit divorce deal. The U.K. insists the law will protect its own internal market.

“Discussions continue to progress and final decisions are expected in the coming days,” the government said in a statement. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove is holding talks with the EU in Brussels to review the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Irish Premier Says Collapse of Talks Would Hurt Both Sides (2:20 p.m. Brussels time)

Prime Minister Micheal Martin said a Brexit deal can still be arrived at, though negotiations remain very challenging. In comments broadcast by RTE on Monday, Martin, who on Sunday put the chances of a deal at 50-50, said failure to agree a trade deal between the U.K. and the EU would damage both sides

U.K. Rules Out Extending Negotiations Into 2021 (2:10 p.m.)

The U.K. won’t continue trade talks with the EU next year if a deal isn’t reached before the end of the transition period on Dec. 31, Johnson’s spokesman, Jamie Davies, told reporters on Monday.

“We are prepared to negotiate for as long as we have time available if we think an agreement is still possible, but we are clear that time is now very short,” Davies said. Asked about the chances of trade talks in 2021, he said, “I can rule that out.”

Davies said differences remain in “three critical areas:” level playing field, governance and fisheries, and if they aren’t resolved, the U.K. will leave its post-Brexit transition to trade with the EU on what he called “Australia terms” — that’s code for the tariffs and quotas that would kick in under World Trade Organization rules.

The premier, Davies said, will use a call later Monday with von der Leyen to “take stock” of the situation.

EU Sees Wednesday as Cut-Off Day For Deal (1:40 p.m.)

Both sides are now looking at Wednesday as the final day a deal could be done, three EU officials said. One said Barnier told members of the European Parliament as much in a private meeting on Monday.

Getting to an agreement still depends on Johnson and von der Leyen deciding that there are grounds to continue when they speak on Monday evening. Their conversation will be about bridging differences, one official said. Officials on both sides said a deal on Monday now looks impossible.

Merkel and Macron Due to Speak This Afternoon (1:20 p.m.)

As his press conference with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi drew to a close, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested he didn’t have much time, saying he had an upcoming appointment with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The leaders of the EU’s two biggest powers are seen as crucial for any deal. Merkel has been calling for both sides to compromise while French officials have been threatening to veto an accord if they don’t like it.

EU Leaders Now Directly Involved (1 p.m.)

The leaders of France and Germany are both now directly involved with the negotiations. A spokeswoman for Macron said he and Merkel have been in permanent contact with von der Leyen since Friday.

“It remains our position as the German government that it would be in the interest of both sides to reach an agreement,” Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said. “There must be the readiness for compromises on both sides — but there are of course also expectations, and both sides have red lines.”

Barnier Talks Fish (12:30 p.m.)

Michel Barnier pointed to one area of compromise on the issue of access to U.K. fishing waters. He told a small group of European Parliament lawmakers that the U.K. has accepted the EU’s demand that quotas not be negotiated annually. But the U.K. rejects the bloc’s proposal that quotas be settled every 10 years, according to an official with knowledge of the private meeting. A possible compromise would be to do it every three years, the person said.

This relates to the main fishing area, between 12 and 200 miles off the British coast. Actual quota numbers, plus the U.K.’s determination to prevent EU from accessing waters between six and 12 miles from the British coast is still proving difficult, Barnier said.

EU Diplomat: Deal Hangs in the Balance (11.25 a.m.)

An EU diplomat close to the talks said the negotiations are approaching a make-or-break moment. There has been some progress but nothing decisive, he said. He warned these developments are unlikely to be seen by the U.K as the sort of progress it was demanding today. Brexit could be discussed at the summit of EU leaders later this week, he added.

Irish Foreign Minister Says the Situation Is ‘Very Difficult’ (10:07 a.m. Brussels time)

Simon Coveney told Bloomberg he’s still hoping for a deal “but it certainly looks very difficult at the moment.”

Currency Tumbles as Talks Run Into Trouble (10:04 a.m.)

The pound fell as much as 1.4% to $1.3258, its largest decline in nearly three months, in response to the impasse in negotiations. The yield on U.K. 10-year government bonds declined as much as six basis points to 0.29%.

Talks Will Collapse Unless There’s Progress Monday, U.K. Says (9:50 a.m.)

British officials regard Monday’s negotiations as vital, with one warning that some progress by the end of the day is essential if the talks are to continue.

Johnson’s call with von der Leyen on Monday evening is seen as the make-or-break moment, another U.K. official said.

Diplomat Says Negotiations Have Entered Endgame (9:36 a.m.)

The EU is ready to go the extra mile to secure a deal, but time is running out, one EU diplomat said following Barnier’s briefing to the envoys. The diplomat said it’s now up to the U.K. to choose whether it wants a deal or not and the talks could still go either way.

Hints That Talks Could Run Into Next Year (9:29 a.m.)

It’s more important to get the substance right than to get a deal quickly, one EU diplomat said following Barnier’s briefing. The diplomat reiterated that there has been no progress in negotiations over the weekend and all three contentious issues — including access to British fishing waters — remain open. The diplomat added that when it comes to the level-playing field, the U.K has not yet made the necessary choices. It’s the latest in a series of bleak reports about the state of negotiations just over three weeks before the end of the post-Brexit transition period.

Johnson Ready to Walk Out, Sun Says (9:07 a.m.)

Johnson is ready to walk away from the negotiations within hours unless the EU backs down from its “outrageous” demands, the Sun reported, citing an unidentified source close to the British prime minister. He could make an address to the country as soon as Tuesday evening, the newspaper said.

Gove to Meet with Sefcovic (9 a.m.)

U.K. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove will meet with European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic in Brussels on Monday. They are both co-chairs of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee, which oversees the implementation of the Brexit divorce deal — including the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Barnier Tells Diplomats No Breakthrough on Fish (8:30 a.m.)

The EU’s chief negotiator denied that the U.K. and EU are nearing a deal on fisheries, according to a diplomat with knowledge of the briefing.

U.K. Says Law-breaking Clauses to be Put Back in Bill (8:20 a.m.)

Controversial clauses that break the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement struck a year ago by the EU and U.K. will be put back in the bill, James Cleverly, a U.K. Foreign Office Minister said.

The Internal Market Bill is due to return on Monday to the House of Commons after the upper chamber, the Lords, stripped out the clauses. But in a Sky interview on Monday, Cleverly likened them to an “insurance policy.”

“The Internal Market bill contains really important clauses that protect the integrity of the U.K.: they will be put back in, because they matter,” he said. “Like all insurance policies, you would prefer to not have to use it.”

Barnier Pessimistic About Deal (8:18 a.m.)

Barnier was rather pessimistic about the prospects of a deal, said a senior EU diplomat present at this morning’s briefing.

The EU’s chief negotiator told envoys that divergences over the three well-known issues remain and that the ball is in Boris Johnson’s court to move, according to the diplomat.

Disagreements over the playing field for businesses, fisheries, and the governance of any agreement have dogged the talks since they started in March.

Barnier Tells Ambassadors Talks Are Continuing (8:00 a.m.)

The EU’s chief negotiator told diplomats that there is still no deal with the U.K. and that talks will go on, according to an official with knowledge of the conversation.

Barnier Arrives to Brief Diplomats (7:30 a.m.)

Michel Barnier arrived at the EU council to brief ambassadors after talks finished at midnight in Brussels on Sunday. Other than a brief “Good morning,” he didn’t speak to reporters outside.

Talks Are on a “Knife Edge” (Earlier)

With the negotiations moving only slowly, one EU official warned that expectations that an agreement will be reached within 24 hours are low. The EU has said that a summit of its 27 leaders that begins on Thursday now marks the effective deadline for a Brexit deal.

“Things are on a knife edge and it’s serious. My gut instinct is it’s 50-50,” Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said in an interview with broadcaster RTE on Sunday. “I don’t think one can be overly optimistic about a resolution emerging.”


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