Brexit: UK and EU ‘remain apart on fundamental issues’, says EU chief Ursula von der Leyen

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said the UK and EU “remain apart on fundamental issues” ahead of Sunday’s deadline for a Brexit trade deal.

Speaking after a Brussels summit of EU leaders, Ms von der Leyen set out continuing differences between EU and UK negotiators on so-called level playing field provisions and fisheries.

The two issues are still yet to be resolved by EU and UK negotiators despite months of talks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ms von der Leyen have now set Sunday as a deadline for deciding whether a post-Brexit trade agreement will be possible.

Ms von der Leyen was earlier said to have spoken for less than 10 minutes about the deadlocked negotiations as she addressed EU leaders at their gathering in the Belgian capital.

One EU official revealed she had told the bloc’s 27 leaders that “the probability of a no deal is higher than of a deal”, it was reported by the Reuters news agency.

The pound dipped by a cent against the US dollar on the latest Brexit developments on Friday morning.

Sterling fell below $1.32 to hit its lowest level since mid-November, and was also down nearly a cent against the euro to slip below €1.09 and reach its lowest level since September.

Speaking at a post-summit news conference, Ms von der Leyen said that “positions remain apart on fundamental issues”.

On level playing field commitments, the EU chief said the bloc’s negotiators had “repeatedly made clear to our UK partners that the principle of fair competition is a pre-condition to privileged access to the EU market”.

Mr Johnson has accused the EU – under the terms of a trade deal – of wanting the “automatic right” to punish the UK in the future, perhaps with tariffs, if it does not comply with new EU laws.

Ms von der Leyen said the UK would “remain free, sovereign if you wish, to decide what they want to do”.

But she added the EU would “simply adapt the conditions for access to our market accordingly to the decision of the UK, and this would apply vice versa”.

The European Commission president said the EU and UK had also not yet “found the solutions to bridge our differences” on post-Brexit fishing rights.

“We understand that the UK aspires to control its waters,” she added.

“The UK must, on the other hand, understand the legitimate expectations of EU fishing fleets – built on decades and sometimes centuries of access.”

Reiterating that there are now just two days for UK and EU officials to make a breakthrough, she added: “On these and other points, our negotiators are working.

“We will decide on Sunday whether we have the conditions for an agreement or not.”

With the Brexit transition period due to end on 31 December, Ms von der Leyen told the news conference: “One way or the other, in less than three weeks, it will be new beginnings for old friends.”

The European Commission on Thursday offered a series of short-term mini-deals in the event of a no-deal outcome from trade negotiations, with the aim to keep planes flying, lorries moving and allow fishing boats to carry on working.

However, this risked provoking a fresh fishing row with Britain over the proposal for a year-long period for EU fishing boats to continue working in UK waters, on a reciprocal basis.

Asked in Brussels on Friday whether this was akin to “having your cake and eating it”, French President Emmanuel Macron replied: “I’m not asking to have my cake and eat it, no.

“All I want is a cake that’s worth its weight. Because I won’t give up my share of it either.”

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