With a hard end-of-year deadline looming, the U.K. and the European Union will continue negotiations to try to avoid a no-deal Brexit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Sunday.
Taking the podium at EU headquarters in Brussels, Von der Leyen said that despite the lack of any breakthrough, talks to determine the two sides' future trading relationship would continue. Von der Leyen said she had a "constructive and useful phone call" with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in which they discussed "major unsolved topics."
She didn't go into detail, but sticking points have included fishing rights, fair competition rules and mechanisms for resolving trade disputes.
"Our negotiation teams have been working day and night over the recent days, and despite the exhaustion after almost one year of negotiations — and despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over — we both think that it is responsible, at this point in time, to go the extra mile," von der Leyen said.
"We have accordingly mandated our negotiators to continue the talks, and to see whether an agreement can be reached, even at this late stage."
The U.K. left the European Union at the end of January, and negotiators have been working since then to hammer out the details once the U.K. is officially on its own. But the official transition period is set to expire at the end of the month; without an agreement, the two sides could face a host of problems.
New tariffs could hurt businesses and increase prices for consumers. All goods moving between the U.K. and the EU will eventually be subject to customs, leading to delays and uncertainty. U.K. citizens wishing to travel throughout the EU — and vice versa — will face new restrictions.
"I'm afraid we're still very far apart on some key things, but where there's life, there's hope," Johnson told reporters Sunday. "We're going to keep talking to see what we can do. The U.K. certainly won't be walking away from the talks."
But the "most likely" outcome, Johnson said, may be that there would be no deal, and the U.K. will have to get ready to trade with the EU under terms established by the World Trade Organization.
"There is a clarity and a simplicity in that approach that has its own advantages," Johnson said. "It's not where we wanted to get to, but if we have to end up with that solution, the U.K. is more than prepared."
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