Boris Johnson and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen to 'redouble' efforts for post-Brexit trade deal

Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen will hold talks on Saturday. Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Post-Brexit trade talks between the UK and EU will continue next week as the two sides try to reach a deal.

Boris Johnson and president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said both sides would "redouble" their efforts following a phone conversation on Saturday.

However Downing Street warned "while some progress had been made in recent discussions, significant differences remain in a number of areas, including the so-called level playing field and fish".

A Downing Street spokeswoman added: “The Prime Minister and president agreed that their negotiating teams would continue talks in London next week, beginning on Monday, in order to redouble efforts to reach a deal.

“They agreed to remain in personal contact about the negotiations."

With the transition period due to end on December 31, talks have reached a critical moment, as goods crossing the borders could soon face additional tariffs.

Briefings between the two leaders are seen as key moments in the cross-Channel bartering, with their conversation last month seeing discussions “intensified” before a fallout after the European Council meeting on October 15 briefly derailed the negotiations.

A Number 10 spokesman said on Friday: “The Prime Minister will speak to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tomorrow afternoon to take stock of the UK-EU negotiations.”

UK chief negotiator Lord Frost was in the Belgian capital to speak face-to-face with his European Union counterpart Michel Barnier earlier this week.brex

Lord Frost with his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier Credit: Dati Bendo/EU/PA

Meetings between the pair are due to continue next week in London after both agreed there continued to be gaps in the UK and the bloc’s positions as the deadline for doing a deal edges closer.

After talks finished on Wednesday, Mr Barnier briefed MEPs and EU diplomats that “very serious divergences” remained, with only 54 days left until the end of the transition period.

He said the main stumbling blocks continued to be around the “level playing field” aimed at preventing unfair competition on areas including state subsidies, fisheries policy and the governance of any deal.

Lord Frost previously said progress had been made during two weeks of intensive talks but “wide divergences remain on some core issues”.

Ireland’s Europe minister Thomas Byrne said he doubted the conversation between Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday would lead to a breakthrough in the EU-UK trade talks.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it is fair to say the talks between (EU chief negotiator) Michel Barnier and (UK chief negotiator, Lord) David Frost have been difficult, a huge range of issues have been discussed but there are big issues – fisheries, internal market issues, level-playing field. They are the big issues that still remain.

“I personally don’t expect that there would be major progress today but at the same time I think it is very good that the top two are talking, I think that’s really positive, but I don’t think we would expect ‘a moment’ at this particular point.”

Asked whether he thought it was time to sideline the negotiators and for the heads of state to engage with each other over a deal, Mr Byrne said: “No, Ursula von der Leyen, Michel Barnier… they speak on behalf of all Europeans, individual member states don’t – that’s the way the European Union works.

“At the moment there is a huge range of issues that need to be discussed at a technical level and they need to continue, I hope.

“I hope that today’s discussion between Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson will progress that further."