British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen decided to resume negotiations on Sunday after trade talks were paused on Friday due to â€œsignificant difference over three â€œcritical issuesâ€.
This is being seen as a last-ditch attempt to bridge significant differences regarding the Brexit deal â€“ governing almost $1 trillion of trade a year.
In a joint statement they said that while there were serious differences, â€œwe agreed that a further effort should be undertaken by our negotiating teams to assess whether they can be resolvedâ€.
â€œNo agreement is feasible if these issues are not resolved,â€ they said after speaking for more than an hour on Saturday. â€œWe are therefore instructing our chief negotiators to reconvene tomorrow in Brussels. We will speak again on Monday evening.â€
Britain left the European Union on January 31 and entered a transition period that runs until the end of the year.
After months of negotiations, there has barely been any movement on three areas of disagreement â€“ fisheries, ensuring fair competition guarantees and ways to solve future disputes.
Sources from both sides said the French demands over fishing rights in British waters remained a key issue, and some on Johnsonâ€™s Conservative Party suggested that EU officials had to convince French President Emmanuel Macron to back deal.
Johnson, a figurehead for Britainâ€™s campaign to leave the EU, must be able to convince Brexit supporters that he has secured a clean break, reclaiming what he called during last yearâ€™s election campaign the countryâ€™s sovereignty.
If the two sides fail to reach a deal, the five-year Brexit divorce will end messily just as Britain and Europe grapple with the vast economic cost of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Both sides acknowledge that time is running out and UK and EU sources gave a pessimistic readout following the call between Johnson and von der Leyen on Saturday.
With less than four weeks to go before Britain completes its journey out of the bloc, both sides must also get agreement on any deal from their parliaments and the EU executive needs to get approval from all 27-member states.
If the talks continue beyond Sunday, they may be further soured when the British government presses ahead on Monday with legislation that breaks an earlier Brexit deal by reintroducing contentious clauses the upper house of parliament removed.
The British government is also introducing a new piece of legislation which is expected to contain more provisions that undermine parts of the exit deal. The clauses, which the government says it needs as a safety net to ensure unfettered trade between its four nations, might not be needed if London and Brussels agree a trade deal.
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