UK, EU leaders to make a last-minute push for a post-Brexit deal

Johnson, von der Leyen’s dinner is on the eve of the two-day summit in Brussels

UK PM Boris Johnson heading to Brussels.

The leaders of Britain and the European Commission will make a last-minute push for a post-Brexit UK-EU trade deal over dinner on Wednesday, with both sides warning that the chance of reaching agreement by a year-end deadline is slipping away, AP reported.

With just over three weeks until an economic rupture that threatens upheaval for businesses on both sides of the English Channel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that she looked forward to welcoming UK PM Boris Johnson to Brussels on Wednesday evening. Johnson’s office confirmed the two leaders would hold a dinner meeting ”to continue discussions on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.”

The warm words masked a deep political divide between Britain and the EU over what their relationship will look like once a post-Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.

Johnson and von der Leyen spoke by phone Monday to take stock of trade talks that have ground to a halt after months of tense negotiations. The two leaders said afterwards that “significant differences” remained on three key issues — fishing rights, fair-competition rules and the governance of future disputes.

Johnson said Tuesday that “the situation at the moment is very tricky,” though he added that “hope springs eternal.” German European Affairs Minister Michael Roth, whose country currently holds the UK’s rotating presidency, said “we are really in a very difficult situation.”

The meeting between Johnson and von der Leyen comes on the eve of a two-day summit in Brussels starting Thursday, one the EU hopes will not be overshadowed by Brexit. With both sides seemingly entrenched in their positions, it was unclear what Johnson’s trip to Brussels could achieve.

Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive of the European Policy Centre, said it was a piece of political theater. “But what we don’t know is whether it is positive theater or negative theater,” he said. “At this moment, we simply don’t know which theater Boris Johnson is going to play”, he noted.

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