Boris Johnson will hold urgent talks with the president of the European Commission on Saturday afternoon, after his top Brexit official warned trade negotiation would fail unless the EU caved over fishing rights. The Prime Minister and Ursula von der Leyen will hold their first conference call on Brexit since June “to take stock of negotiations and discuss next steps,” a Number 10 spokesman said. News of the video conference call came as the last scheduled round of UK-EU trade negotiations ended in Brussels. The pound rose by as much 0.5 percent on the hopes it would bring a breakthrough. “Where there is a will, there is a way so I think we should intensify the negotiations,” said Mrs von der Leyen, who will put the prime minister under pressure to soften the British position on access to UK waters after the end of the Brexit transition period. Mrs von der Leyen on Friday said neither side could afford no deal during the coronavirus pandemic. But she demanded concessions over level playing field commitments on state aid laws and the enforcement of the trade deal. She wants a stricter system of enforcement of subsidy law and a way to ensure standards stay up to date. British negotiators will hope Mr Johnson will convince Mrs von der Leyen to begin intensive and secret “tunnel talks” in the run up to the October 15 EU summit. “On fisheries the gap between us is unfortunately very large and, without further realism and flexibility from the EU risks being impossible to bridge,” warned David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator after the ninth round of talks. A British compromise offer of a three year transition period for fishing quotas, with the UK share increasing over time, fell short of EU expectations this week. France, in particular, is pushing hard for a permanent quota system. Michel Barnier, the EU’s negotiator, said there had been “positive new developments” in police cooperation and aviation safety but “persistent serious divergences on matters of major importance for the European Union.” Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, said, “As long as negotiations are ongoing I remain optimistic […] It will be a crucial phase over the next few days.” “The EU needs to hear at the highest level that the UK government is serious about a deal,” one diplomatic source said. Getting a deal finalised by the end of October would give the EU time to ratify the deal before January 1 and avoid no deal, which would mean trading on less lucrative WTO terms.
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