Britain and the European Union warned Tuesday that talks on a post-Brexit free-trade deal are teetering on the brink of collapse, with just over three weeks until an economic rupture that will cause upheaval for businesses on both sides of the English Channel.
Officials downplayed the chances of a breakthrough when Prime Minister Boris Johnson heads to Brussels for face-to-face talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the next few days.
With negotiators deadlocked on key issues after months of tense talks, German European Affairs Minister Michael Roth said the bloc’s confidence in Britain was hanging in the balance.
Johnson’s Downing Street office said the situation was “very tricky” and collapse of the talks was a distinct possibility.
Johnson and von der Leyen, head of the EU’s executive arm, spoke by phone Monday for the second time in 48 hours.
They said afterwards that “significant differences” remained on three key issues - fishing rights, fair-competition rules and the governance of future disputes - and “the conditions for finalizing an agreement are not there.”
The two leaders said in the joint statement that they planned to discuss the remaining differences “in a physical meeting in Brussels in the coming days.”
Leaders of the EU's 27 nations are holding a two-day summit in Brussels starting Thursday.