Boris Johnson to discuss Brexit negotiations in call with Ursula von der Leyen

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the deal was fair, balanced and right. File photo: PA Wire/PA Images
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By Harriet Line, PA Deputy Political Editor

Boris Johnson and Brussels’ top official will speak on Thursday evening to discuss the state of play in the Brexit negotiations.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen would talk at 7pm UK time.

The UK government downplayed the chances of a breakthrough, suggesting it would only be a stocktake rather than a deal.

Negotiations between the UK and EU continued this week after they were given the green light following a meeting between Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen last Wednesday.

Despite days of talks, Michael Gove – the Cabinet Office Minister – said on Thursday that the chances of an agreement remained “less than 50%”.

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He told the Commons Brexit Committee the “most likely outcome” was that the current transition period would end on December 31 without a deal.

“I think, regrettably, the chances are more likely that we won’t secure an agreement. So at the moment less than 50%,” Mr Gove said.

He also said the Government will not seek to negotiate a fresh trade agreement with the EU next year if they cannot reach a deal before the end of the Brexit transition period.

Mr Gove said that though talks with the EU had made progress, “significant” differences between the two sides remained.

“The process of negotiation has managed to narrow down areas of difference. It is certainly the case that there are fewer areas of difference now than there were in October or indeed July.”

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who has been holding talks with the UK team led by Lord Frost, said there had been “good progress” but the “last stumbling blocks remain”.

He said: “We will only sign a deal protecting EU interests and principles.”

His comments came as the European Parliament set down a three-day deadline for post-Brexit trade deal negotiators to strike a deal, warning that MEPs will not have time to ratify an agreement this year unless it is ready by Sunday night.

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Presidents of the parliament’s political groups said it was ready to organise a plenary session by the end of the month, but on condition that “an agreement is reached by midnight on Sunday December 20″.

The House of Commons rose for Christmas at the close of Thursday’s business but MPs have been put on standby to be recalled if a trade deal is secured.

Meanwhile, peers urged the Government to give food, farming and haulage businesses up to six months to adjust to the new export regime, warning that tonnes of food bound for Europe from Britain could be left to rot in lorries.

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