Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, agreed to “redouble efforts” to reach a trade deal in a phone call on Saturday – and vowed to carry not talks next week.
Downing Street said the Prime Minister told his Brussels counterpart that there remained “significant differences” in the UK-EU negotiations, with the two sides continuing to be apart on their positions over fishing rights and a level playing field agreement.
The call follows two weeks of intensified talks between the UK’s chief negotiator Lord Frost and his European Union equivalent Michel Barnier, with Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen paving the way for further discussions between the pair in London next week.
“Prime Minister Boris Johnson today spoke with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen for a stock take on the progress in the negotiations between the UK and the EU,” a Number 10 spokeswoman said.
“The Prime Minister set out that, while some progress had been made in recent discussions, significant differences remain in a number of areas, including the so-called level playing field and fish.
“The Prime Minister and president agreed that their negotiating teams would continue talks in London next week, beginning on Monday, in order to redouble efforts to reach a deal. They agreed to remain in personal contact about the negotiations.”
Earlier on Saturday, Ireland’s Europe minister said he was not expecting a telephone conversation between Boris Johnson and his European Commission counterpart to result in a breakthrough in the post-Brexit trade talks.
Thomas Byrne said he doubted the conversation between Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen would lead to white smoke on agreeing a deal, with “big issues” still remaining in talks that he described as having been “difficult”.
“I personally don’t expect that there would be major progress today but at the same time I think it is very good that the top two are talking – I think that’s really positive, but I don’t think we would expect ‘a moment’ at this particular point,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“At the moment there is a huge range of issues that need to be discussed at a technical level and they need to continue, I hope.
“I hope that today’s discussion between Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson will progress that further.”