Tuesday, 20 Oct 2020

Merkel to ‘step in’ and order Boris and EU leaders to engage to break Brexit deadlock

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The German Chancellor fears the Prime Minister is unaware the wrangling over a free-trade agreement will miss his October 15 deadline and wants capitals to pressure him into a Brexit settlement. It comes amid fears the trade deal talks could be headed for a Christmas showdown as both sides jostle for concessions. One EU insider said Mrs Merkel could even launch her own intervention as early as Monday to get negotiations back on track.

The influential leader wants Mr Johnson to speak with her EU counterparts to broker a high-level compromise to break the deadlock on fisheries and state subsidies.

Senior figures are concerned the Prime Minister is not engaged on the key sticking points, which means it’s impossible for EU capitals to discuss potential concessions.

A senior EU diplomat told Express.co.uk: “If things stay as they are, what can we do other than tell Michel Barnier good luck, carry on, we hope you get there. 

“The chances of there being a deal are becoming less and less by the end, that’s clear. It’s time for EU leaders to step in.

“But one reason why our leaders can’t do much is because Boris Johnson hasn’t been engaging.

“We need Boris to start engaging in the outstanding issues. It doesn’t matter who he calls but it’s about time people at the top of the hierarchy start involving themselves if they want to achieve something.”

The diplomat said they expect Mrs Merkel, who met Michel Barnier in Berlin on Monday, to “step in at some point to keep things together”.

But the source said while the German will work overtime to strike a deal, she will also “be tough with Johnson” on what he needs to do to get an agreement across the line.

“Merkel always looks very soft and warm and motherly, but she’s really tough,” the insider said.

EU chiefs have claimed the Prime Minister’s hands-off approach is the complete opposite to his predecessor, Theresa May, who regularly got in touch with European leaders.

Brussels sources said Mr Johnson “didn’t have much to say” on substance on Saturday during his phone call with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

And they warned unless he overhauls his approach to the talks there is unlikely to be any major progress before Thursday’s crunch Brussels summit.

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Downing Street has set the European Council meeting as a major deadline in the talks and wants to know whether a deal is doable by then.

But without any movement, senior figures believe the next moment leaders will be able to sign off on a deal would be at the bloc’s December summit.

Brussels still hopes a deal is possible, and believes the recent optimism in No10 could signal a compromise in the coming weeks.

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They say “substantial movement” on the two key areas of common future standards and enforcement of the deal are needed. 

The diplomat said: “That needs to happen to have confidence we can move into a phase where we start to wrap things up.

“All this positive language from the UK makes us believe they’re going to do something in the next four weeks.” 

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