EU, UK agreed to agree by Sunday whether trade deal is possible

The negotiation positions remain “far apart”, according to Johnson and Von der Leyen

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the EC President Ursula von der Leyen gave themselves until the end of the weekend to seal a new trade pact after failing to overcome persistent rifts over a “frank” and “lively” dinner on Wednesday, news wires reported.

“We agreed that the (negotiating) teams should immediately reconvene to try to resolve these essential issues,” Von der Leyen said after the dinner. “We will come to a decision by the end of the weekend,” she added, pointing out that EU and UK positions remained “far apart”.

With fears running high of a chaotic no-deal finale to the five-year Brexit crisis, a senior UK government source said the leaders’ discussion in Brussels was “frank”. “Very large gaps remain between the two sides and it is still unclear whether these can be bridged,” said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Johnson did not “want to leave any route to a possible deal untested” after the premier earlier in the day warned the EU to budge or brace for the most-damaging split on 31 December as Britain completes its transition out of the bloc.

Following Brexit, Britain drops out of the EU’s trading orbit in three weeks. Failure to agree new rules to govern everything from trade to energy ties would snarl borders, shock financial markets and sow chaos through supply chains in a world already grappling with the economic cost of Covid-19.

The estranged allies are bitterly at odds over fisheries, a topic politically sensitive for France, agreeing ways to settle future trade disputes and protecting against price dumping from lower production standards. Around $1 trillion in annual trade - currently free from tariffs and quotas - is at stake if there is no agreement.

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