British PM and EU leader plan in-person meeting in hopes of reaching post-Brexit deal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen plan to meet in person to see whether a last minute trade deal can be hammered out, officials said Monday.

Johnson and von der Leyen said after a lengthy Monday phone call that “significant differences” remained on three key issues. They said they were planning to discuss the differences “in a physical meeting in Brussels in the coming days.”

The two leaders spoke for the second time in 48 hours as their trade teams remained locked in stalled negotiations in Brussels.

Gaps remain on fishing rights, fair-competition rules and the governance of future disputes, with just over three weeks until the two sides’ current economic relationship unravels at the end of the year.

Any breakthrough would now have to come from the leaders themselves.

Despite intensified efforts, Johson and von der Leyen’s joint statement said the leaders “agreed that the conditions for finalizing an agreement are not there due to the remaining significant differences on three critical issues: level playing field, governance and fisheries.”

While Britain left the European Union politically on Jan. 31, it remains within the bloc’s tariff-free single market and customs union through Dec. 31. Reaching a trade deal by then would ensure there are no tariffs and trade quotas on goods exported or imported by the two sides, although there would still be new costs and red tape.

Both sides would suffer economically from a failure to secure a trade deal, but most economists think the British economy would take a greater hit, at least in the short term, because Britain does almost half its trade with the bloc.

Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Nov. 21 that the two countries had reached an interim post-Brexit trade agreement. The Canada-United Kingdom Trade Continuity Agreement extends the elimination of tariffs on 98 per cent of goods exported between the two countries and sets the stage for negotiations toward a permanent and more ambitious deal in the new year.

WATCH | What we know about the Canada-U.K. interim trade deal:

The two countries have agreed to ‘roll over’ the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). 5:35

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