Johnson, EU chief to hold emergency call as Brexit talks falter

British and EU negotiators have paused trade talks to call in their leaders to try to narrow gaps and get an agreement over the line, less than four weeks before the United Kingdom completes its Brexit journey out of the bloc.

After failing to agree to the basis for a deal, the UK’s David Frost and the EU’s Michel Barnier said on Friday that they would brief leaders to seek new impetus for the talks, which stumbled on Thursday when London accused Brussels of making new demands.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will speak to try to break the impasse, which sources said was centred on French demands about fishing rights in British waters.

It is the latest twist in what has been months of negotiations which have barely moved on the three thorniest issues – fisheries, ensuring fair competition guarantees and ways to solve future disputes.

But so far neither side has walked away from the talks, suggesting that both still hold out some hope of securing a deal governing almost $1 trillion of annual trade to avoid a disorderly end to more than 40 years of British membership of the European club.

“After one week of intense negotiations in London, the two chief negotiators agreed today that the conditions for an agreement are not met, due to significant divergences on level playing field, governance and fisheries,” they said in a statement.

“On this basis, they agreed to pause in order to brief their principals on the state of play of the negotiations. President von der Leyen and Prime Minister Johnson will discuss the state of play tomorrow afternoon.”

Sterling sank by as much as half a cent against the US dollar, weakening to $1.3425 from $1.3475 before the negotiators’ statement. The pound was also lower against the euro.

Nightmare scenario

Earlier on Friday, there were contradictory reports of how far the talks had progressed, with some EU officials saying they were on the brink of agreement while British officials said the negotiations had reached a “very difficult” point.

Ultimately, it will be for the politicians to decide whether they want to shift the negotiating positions and compromise to find grounds for a deal, or instead, to walk away.

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