Brexit: EU leaders call on UK to 'make the necessary moves' to reach trade deal

Thursday 15th October 2020 22:45 BST

Lord Frost, the prime minister's EU adviser, hit back at the stance taken by the EU's national leaders at a Brussels summit on Thursday.

In a series of tweets, Lord Frost said he was "disappointed" by the conclusions from the summit and "surprised" the bloc is "no longer committed to working 'intensively' to reach a future partnership".

This came after a call for the EU's chief negotiator to "intensify" talks with the UK was removed from draft summit conclusions by EU leaders and replaced with "continue".

Lord Frost added: "Also surprised by suggestion that to get an agreement all future moves must come from UK.

"It's an unusual approach to conducting a negotiation."

Lord Frost revealed that Mr Johnson will deliver his own reaction to the EU summit conclusions on Friday.

The prime minister has previously raised the prospect of walking away from negotiations by setting this week's Brussels gathering as a deadline for agreeing a deal.

At their summit in the Belgian capital, EU leaders had called on the UK "to make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible".

They also noted their "concern" that progress in ongoing UK-EU negotiations was "still not sufficient for an agreement to be reached".

The leaders agreed that the 27 member states and EU institutions should "step up their work on preparedness and readiness at all levels and for all outcomes", ahead of the possibility of the Brexit transition period ending on 31 December without a deal on a future relationship.

The leaders invited the European Commission to "give timely consideration to unilateral and time-limited contingency measures that are in the EU's interest" due to the prospect of a no-deal outcome.

European Council President Charles Michel, speaking at a news conference after the leaders' discussions on Brexit, said the bloc was "100% united".

"We are united and determined to reach an agreement but not at any cost," he added.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, echoed that stance and told the news conference that differences still remained between the two sides on so-called level playing field commitments, issues of governance, and fisheries.

He added that the EU was ready to continue negotiations "until the last possible day".

"We want to give these discussions every chance of being successful so that we secure an agreement," he said.

Mr Barnier also held out the prospect of a two-week extension to Mr Johnson's 15 October deadline, by adding that his team would travel for London for talks next week and would host negotiations in Brussels the week after.

He also insisted that his officials are "prepared to speed up negotiations", in contrast to Lord Frost's tweets.

The gathering of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday was interrupted by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen having to pull out of the summit after a member of her staff tested positive for coronavirus.

She posted on Twitter: "I have just been informed that a member of my front office has tested positive to Covid-19 this morning.

"I myself have tested negative. However as a precaution I am immediately leaving the European Council to go into self-isolation."

On the eve of Thursday's EU summit, Mr Johnson held a phone call with Ms von der Leyen and Mr Michel.

During the call, the prime minister "noted the desirability of a deal" but "expressed his disappointment that more progress had not been made over the past two weeks", a Downing Street spokesperson said.

:: Subscribe to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker

On Thursday, Ireland's foreign affairs minister, Simon Coveney, said he believed "a deal can be done" but admitted the UK and EU remained "miles apart" on the issue of fisheries.

"There's a lot of difficult work to do and I think it is going to take weeks rather than days to finalise this," he told an Irish parliamentary committee meeting.

"I hope that by the start of November that we will be in the space of a deal in sight."

On Brexit, the message from the European Union is a bit mixed - talking about negotiations, but also saying that compromise has to come from the UK.

Analysis: Is a deal certain? Definitely not!
By Adam Parsons, Europe correspondent

Wanting more talks, but shying away from the word "intensify". Talk of progress followed by claims of stalemate.

The one thing that unified them was the expression "we want a deal but not at any price".

Variants of that turn of phrase came from officials and leaders, including chief negotiator Michel Barnier, European Council president Charles Michel and the Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

And yet perhaps the most symbolic moment of this day was not about what Von der Leyen said, but what she did - rushing away from the meeting to self-isolate in her flat at the top of the Berlaymont building.

The truth is that, however important Brexit may seem to us, most Europeans now consider it trivial next to the damage being wrought by coronavirus.

The mood among many sources is that they want a deal not just because of the economic benefits but to get it over and done with.

The big exception is French president Emmanuel Macron - who today reiterated that he wouldn't "sacrifice" his nation's fishermen if he thought their rights were being constrained.

So is a deal possible? Yes. It is likely? Maybe. But is it certain? Definitely not. The European Council today warned its members to "step up" preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

Now On Air
Number 1s at 1
An hour of the greatest number 1s non-stop.