Brexit: Johnson urges Europe to 'see sense' over sticking points of fishing and laws

  • Video report by ITV News Europe Editor James Mates

Boris Johnson has urged the EU to "see sense" and come back to the negotiating table with a compromise so a no-deal Brexit can be avoided at the 11th hour.

The prime minister stressed the public voted in the EU referendum to control its own laws and waters, adding: “No sensible government is going to agree to a treaty that doesn’t have those two basic things in it as well as everything else.

“Our door is open, we’ll keep talking, but I have to say things are looking difficult.

“There’s a gap that needs to be bridged, the UK has done a lot to try and help, and we hope that our EU friends will see sense and come to the table with something themselves, because that’s really where we are.”

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier earlier warned there are “just a few hours” left to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK, as the two sides stand at the “moment of truth”.

Talks between the UK and EU resumed on Friday, but as the clock ticks down to the end of the transition period on December 31, he said the path to a breakthrough is “very narrow”.

“It’s the moment of truth,” Mr Barnier told the European Parliament in Brussels.

Michel Barnier has said progress has been made - but not enough. Credit: PA

“We have very little time remaining, just a few hours, to work through these negotiations in useful fashion if we want this agreement to enter into force on January 1.

“There is a chance of getting an agreement but the path to such an agreement is very narrow.”

He said he was being “frank with you and open and sincere” when he said that he was unable to say what the result will be from the “last home straight of negotiations”.

Talks between the UK and the EU will still continue in Brussels, but both sides have warned that major obstacles remain despite progress in the negotiations.

The EU set the latest deadline that an agreement must be ready by Sunday night in order to have enough time for MEPs to ratify it, while the House of Commons has been warned it may need to to hastily return from Christmas recess to vote on a deal.

Boris Johnson told European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in a call on Thursday evening that the EU must “significantly” shift its stance on fishing if there is to be an agreement.

Mrs von der Leyen acknowledged that “big differences” remained between the two sides and stressed that “bridging them will be very challenging”.

Time is running out to reach a deal with just a fortnight until the end of the transition period, and the PM said the negotiations were now in a “serious situation”.

Tweeting after the call, Mr Johnson said he told the Commission chief that “time is short and the EU position needed to change substantially”.

And in a readout of the call, Downing Street said the Prime Minister warned it looked “very likely” a deal would not be agreed unless the bloc shifted its stance.

Number 10 said he urged the EU to move on fisheries and said some “fundamental areas” remained difficult despite a narrowing of the gap on the “level playing field”.

The UK’s chief negotiator Lord Frost meanwhile warned that progress in the talks “seems blocked”, tweeting: “The situation in our talks with the EU is very serious tonight. Progress seems blocked and time is running out.”

After the 7pm call – which was not expected to be a breakthrough moment – Mrs von der Leyen wrote on Twitter: “We welcomed substantial progress on many issues.

“However, big differences remain to be bridged, in particular on fisheries. Bridging them will be very challenging. Negotiations will continue tomorrow.”

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who has been in charge of the Government’s no-deal planning, said on Thursday that the chances of an agreement remained “less than 50%”.

He told the Commons Brexit Committee the “most likely outcome” was that the current transition period would end on December 31 without a deal.

“I think, regrettably, the chances are more likely that we won’t secure an agreement. So at the moment less than 50%,” Mr Gove said.

He also said the Government will not seek to negotiate a fresh trade agreement with the EU next year if they cannot reach a deal before the end of the Brexit transition period.

Brexit trade talks - the sticking points at a glance:

Fishing rights: The UK wants total control over its own fishing waters after the Brexit transition period ends, with a 12 mile exclusion zone around the British Isles banning all foreign vessels. The EU wants the UK to stick to the Common Fisheries Policy, an EU agreement which gives member nations the rights to fish in European waters - more here.Level Playing Field: This is a concept all EU nations agree to, which ensures member nations cannot undercut others by setting their own rules on issues such as the environment, taxation and state aid. The EU says a zero-tariff trade deal is dependent on the UK agreeing to a level playing field. The UK disagrees, saying a fundamental aspect of Brexit is that the UK will be able to set its own rules.- Governance of a deal: It's likely that any trade deal will eventually result in disputes. The EU wants the European Court of Justice to be the final authority in ruling over disputes. The UK says the ECJ should have no role and final decisions should be made by a bespoke arbiter. But the statements from both sides suggested that while further discussions would be held, substantial movement on the key issues had not been made.