Brexit talks: UK and Brussels to continue negotiations next week amid ‘significant differences’

Boris Johnson and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen have agreed their negotiating teams will continue talks next week as both acknowledged “significant differences” remain.

Downing Street said it would enable the two sides to “redouble efforts” to reach a trade deal as the end of the transition period looms.

The talks will resume in London on Monday, with fishing rights and agreement on a level playing field remaining as the sticking points.

The move comes after the pair spoke by phone on Saturday for “a stock take” on the progress of the stop-start negotiations.

Their discussions have played an important role in the ongoing cross-Channel bartering.

The call follows two weeks of intensified talks between the UK’s chief negotiator Lord Frost and his European Union counterpart Michel Barnier.

A Number 10 spokesman said: “Prime Minister Boris Johnson today spoke with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for a stock take on the progress in the negotiations between the UK and the EU.

“The prime minister set out that, 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.

“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.”

In a tweet, Ms Von der Leyen said: “Some progress has been made, but large differences remain especially on level playing field and fisheries.

“Our teams will continue working hard next week. We will remain in close contact in the next days.”

Mr Barnier wrote in a subsequent Twitter post that he would return to the negotiating table “to find an agreement that respects the interests and values of the EU and its 27 member states”.

Earlier, Ireland’s Europe minister Thomas Byrne said he doubted the conversation between Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen would lead to white smoke on agreeing a deal, with “big issues” still outstanding in talks which he described as having been “difficult”.

“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,” he told the BBC.

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Both Lord Frost and Mr Barnier have agreed there continue 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 there were still “fundamental differences” in the hunt for a trade agreement and that the UK has “blocked” progress in key areas while trying to run down the clock with the ending of the transition period on 31 December.

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

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