Brexit: Boris Johnson and EU chiefs agree ‘new momentum’ needed in trade talks

Boris Johnson has been warned an agreement on a “level playing field” with the EU is “essential” to a post-Brexit trade deal.

The prime minister held talks, via videoconference, on Monday with European Council president Charles Michel, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament president David Sassoli.

Following the meeting, Mr Michel said a “broad and ambitious agreement” was in both sides’ “mutual interest”.

“Ready to put a tiger in the tank but not to buy a pig in a poke,” he posted on Twitter.

“Level playing field is essential.”

Mr Michel’s turn-of-phrase was an apparent repetition of Mr Johnson’s own words from October 2017, when he was foreign secretary.

At the time, Mr Johnson urged the EU to “put a bit of a tiger in the tank and get this thing done” as the UK – under the premiership of Theresa May – negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the bloc.

A joint UK-EU statement released after Monday’s meeting between Mr Johnson and senior EU figures said both sides had “welcomed the constructive discussions on the future relationship that had taken place” already – led by UK chief negotiator David Frost and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier.

This had allowed “both sides to clarify and further understand positions”, the statement added.

“The parties agreed nevertheless that new momentum was required.”

Both Mr Frost and Mr Barnier recently admitted progress in negotiations between their teams of officials – after four rounds of formal talks – had been limited.

The areas of most difficulty have been outlined by the two sides as fisheries and so-called “level playing field” commitments for the UK to abide by EU rules and standards.

In Monday’s talks, Mr Johnson and the EU presidents ratified plans to intensify talks on a future UK-EU relationship in July and to “create the most conducive conditions for concluding and ratifying a deal before the end of 2020”.

The joint statement also revealed they had spoken about the prime minister’s insistence that he will not extend the Brexit transition period beyond 31 December, despite the EU’s preference for an extension.

“The transition period will therefore end on 31 December 2020, in line with the provisions of the withdrawal agreement,” the statement said.

Last week, it was announced a new timetable for trade talks will see negotiations held in each of the five weeks between the week beginning 29 June and week beginning 27 July.

The UK officially left the EU in January but is currently in the Brexit transition period – meaning it maintains the status quo of membership of the bloc.

If the Brexit transition period ends without a deal being struck, the UK will likely have to trade with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms from next year.

Earlier on Monday, Downing Street said the government wants a trade deal with the EU to be agreed by the end of the summer.

Ahead of the talks with EU presidents, Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said the prime minister would use the meeting “to urge renewed energy and commitment to reach an agreement by the end of the summer”.

“The high-level meeting was always envisaged as a moment to push the negotiations forward,” the spokesman added.

“We now need to get this resolved and deliver certainty for businesses at home and in the EU as soon as possible.

“We are looking to agree a high quality free trade agreement based on the agreements the EU has already reached with other countries.

“But whatever happens we will be ready for 1 January when we will take back control of our laws, border and money.”

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