Boris Johnson says trade deal with EU "looking very, very difficult at the moment"
- 08 December 2020
Boris Johnson has said the conclusion of a Brexit trade deal is "looking very, very difficult at the moment" as he prepares for a make-or-break visit to Brussels, APA reports citing Sky News.
The prime minister spoke to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the phone on Monday, in which the pair agreed there were still "significant differences" on key issues.
Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen are planning to meet in person in Brussels "in the coming days", with the hope they can push a deal over the line despite months of deadlock.
However, during a visit to an NHS site on Tuesday as the first COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out across the UK, the prime minister issued a warning that an agreement might not be struck.
"You've got to be optimistic, you've got to believe there's the power of sweet reason to get this thing over the line," he said.
"But I've got to tell you it's looking very, very difficult at the moment.
"We'll do our level best, but I've would just say to everybody - be in good cheer, there are great options ahead for our country on any view.
"But the key thing is, on 1 January, whatever happens there's going to be change and people need to get ready for that change."
Mr Johnson said there "may come a moment when we have to acknowledge that it's time to draw stumps" and settle on a no-deal outcome ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.
He added the UK and the EU are "a long way apart still" on the issue of fisheries.
The prime minister and Ms von der Leyen have also highlighted so-called "level playing field" commitments and governance issues as other major sticking points.
Mr Johnson urged European leaders to "understand that the UK has left the EU in order to be able exercise democratic control over the way we do things".
And he vowed Britain would "prosper mightily" whatever the outcome of trade negotiations.
Without a post-Brexit trade deal being agreed by the end of this month, the EU and UK are likely to have to trade on World Trade Organisation rules with tariffs imposed in both directions.
The prime minister has often referred to this scenario as "Australian" terms of trade with the bloc, as Australia does not have a comprehensive trade deal in place with the EU.
Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, Germany's Europe minister Michael Roth called for "political will in London" in order to reach an EU-UK trade deal.
"It's good that every effort is undertaken to find a sustainable and good solution," he said.
"We want to reach a deal but not at any price. What we need is political will in London. Let me be very clear, our future relationship is based on trust and confidence.
"It's precisely this confidence that is at stake in our negotiations right now."
EU leaders are due to gather in Brussels on Thursday for a European Council summit, although Brexit is not yet on the agenda.