Merkel urges Johnson not to abandon Brexit negotiations

Angela Merkel has called on Boris Johnson to keep negotiating over Brexit, saying the EU will need to compromise, ahead of a statement by the prime minister on whether he will walk out of the trade and security talks.

In comments designed to cool the temperature of the troubled talks, the German chancellor said both sides needed to find common ground. Johnson had threatened in September to abandon negotiations if an agreement was not in place by this weekend.

“In some places things have moved well, in other places there is still a lot of work to be done,” Merkel said. “We have asked the United Kingdom to remain open to compromise, so that an agreement can be reached. This of course means that we, too, will need to make compromises.”

Downing Street had reacted in dismay as the French president, Emmanuel Macron, led EU leaders at a summit on Thursday in demanding the UK swallow the bloc’s conditions or face a no-deal exit.

The EU had proposed a further “two to three weeks” of negotiations but the summit communique said it was up to the UK to “make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible”.

Issued on Thursday afternoon, the leaders’ statement had asked the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, to “continue negotiations in the coming weeks”. Barnier said he would be in London on Monday.

However, to the frustration of Downing Street, a call for an “intensification” of talks, included in an earlier draft of the statement, was deleted by the time leaders signed it off.

The UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, tweeted in response: “Disappointed by the [summit] conclusions on UK/EU negotiations. Surprised EU is no longer committed to working ‘intensively’ to reach a future partnership as agreed with [the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen] on 3 October.

“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.”

The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said on Friday morning he had also been “disappointed by the lack of flexibility that seems to have come out of the European council”. But he emphasised that a deal was still possible.

“We’ve been told that it must be the UK that makes all of the compromises in the days ahead, that can’t be right in a negotiation, so we’re surprised by that, but the prime minister will be saying more on this later today,” he said. “Having said that, we are close [to a deal]. With goodwill on both sides we can get there.”

EU officials said they believed Downing Street was seeking to create a moment of political crisis. According to EU sources, the summit statement had been seen by No 10 and there should not have been any surprises.

The change to the original draft had been made ahead of leaders seeing the communique and it was merely done as a call for intensified talks had been made in the last summit conclusions, the source said.

Raab noted in his comments on Friday morning that there had been more “emollient” language from other quarters in Brussels, in a reference to a statement from Barnier in which he promised to “speed up” negotiation.

“We’re available, we shall remain available until the last possible day,” Barnier said. “The negotiations aren’t over – we want to give these negotiations every chance to be successful. I shall say to David Frost we’re prepared to speed up negotiations in the next few days.”

Following the issuing of the summit communique, the leaders had held a two-hour discussion on the most contentious issues that stand in the way of agreement: how to hold both sides to the deal, EU access to British fishing waters and the so-called level playing field demands, sought by Brussels to ensure neither side can undercut standards or over-subsidise parts of the economy to give its companies a competitive advantage.

The heads of state and government were asked to put their phones and tablets into lockers to avoid any leaks during the discussion.

The Irish taoiseach, Micheál Martin, said Barnier had provided a presentation on the most thorny issues remaining.

“Fisheries loomed large in the presentation and in the subsequent debate, and of course a dispute mechanism to have a proper process in terms of how to resolve any subsequent disputes if an agreement was to be arrived at,” he said.

“I think [Barnier] senses that he will continue negotiating until the very end to get a deal, but there are difficulties. I think that it would be fair to say that there are challenges, and particularly on those last three items that I referenced – in terms of level playing field, in terms of fisheries, in terms of governance, that there hasn’t really been sufficient movement on those fronts to at this stage suggest that there could be an agreement, so there’s significant work to be done yet.”

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