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Brexit dinner: Johnson at von der Leyen in Brussels | Free press

Brussels / London (dpa) – In the dispute over a Brexit trade pact, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen looked for a last-minute breakthrough.

Both met for dinner in Brussels. Just hours earlier, Johnson set the tone in London, complaining that the EU was pushing for positions that “no prime minister of this country should accept”. But much is still possible. The EU side dampened expectations of the conversation.

When Johnson arrived at the European Commission, von der Leyen joined him for photos. Both took off their masks for a moment before disappearing behind a door after a few seconds.

The disputed points have been the same for months: the EU’s demand for a fair playing field, fishing in UK waters and sanctions for possible violations of the agreement. “The Prime Minister will make it clear tonight that he cannot accept anything that affects our ability to rule our laws or our waters,” said a government spokeswoman in London.

However, the EU hoped that the British side would move. “At the moment we still have major disagreements” on these issues, confirmed EU negotiator Michel Barnier at an event of the Committee of the Regions in Brussels. “The coming days will be very important.” On both sides, it was expected that Barnier and his British colleague David Frost would have to reopen negotiations – if movement or a first breakthrough were to be achieved at the executive level.

Great Britain left the EU at the end of January. There must be a contract on 31 December, then the transition phase of Brexit will end. Without a contract, tariffs, long border congestion and other trade barriers threaten around the turn of the year.

Chancellor Angela Merkel tempered the expectation of a swift agreement. “There is still a chance of an agreement,” the CDU politician said in the Bundestag on Wednesday, but added, “I don’t think we’ll know tomorrow whether it will work or not.” People are also prepared for failure. “Because one thing is clear: the integrity of the internal market must be preserved,” Merkel said.

Should an agreement be reached, it must be ratified in the European Parliament. But there is hardly time for that, as SPD Brexit expert Bernd Lange said. Parliament does not want provisional application without ratification. That would be “a declaration of war,” said the MEP. How this dilemma will be resolved is unclear.

Numerous deadlines have already passed during the negotiations. Johnson’s visit to Brussels now took place just before the EU summit on Thursday and Friday. In the negotiations on the EU exit agreement a year ago, the Prime Minister himself intervened at the last minute and achieved a breakthrough.

The publicist and historian Helene von Bismarck told the German news agency, “The idea of ​​the last-minute meeting, the drama, was always planned by Johnson.” Johnson is “a man for the big stage”.

Political scientist Anand Menon of King’s College London speculated that Johnson wanted to change the EU’s mandate. He also wants to be invited by the summit to negotiate directly with the 27 heads of state or government of the EU. However, the EU states want to avoid this at all costs. In any case, French President Emmanuel Macron does not want to speak directly to Johnson, French government circles said Wednesday.

Hope also sparked a breakthrough in the EU on Tuesday: both sides agreed on the interpretation and implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol from the Brexit agreement. This largely removes the greatest concern with a no deal. The aim of the protocol is to ensure that there is no hard border between the British Northern Ireland and the EU Member State Republic of Ireland. In this case, the conflict was expected to flare up in the former civil war zone.

On Tuesday, London agreed to delete or amend controversial passages in a bill that had caused widespread discontent in Brussels. By the will of London, the Single Market Act was supposed to quash the provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol, thereby violating international law.

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