Brexit: Boris Johnson to speak to EU chief Ursula von der Leyen as trade talks continue

Boris Johnson will speak to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tonight as negotiations continue over a post-Brexit trade deal.

The prime minister will hold a phone call with Ms von der Leyen at 7pm UK time, with the two leaders to take stock of the current state of trade talks.

Discussions over the UK’s future relationship with the EU continued in Brussels on Thursday morning, with the two teams also having worked until late on Wednesday night.

The European Parliament has set a three-day deadline for a post-Brexit trade deal to be agreed, as it warned MEPs will not have time to ratify an agreement this year unless it is ready by Sunday night.

Meanwhile, MPs were sent home from parliament for the Christmas holidays on Thursday, with them not due to return to Westminster until 5 January.

However, Downing Street has said it could recall parliament from its Christmas recess as early as next week, should a trade deal be reached and need to be ratified before the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.

Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen last spoke on Sunday morning, when they scrapped a deadline for making a decision on whether a Brexit trade deal would be possible and agreed to “go the extra mile” and continue negotiations.

Senior cabinet minister Michael Gove downplayed the prospects of a deal being struck when he appeared before a committee of MPs on Thursday afternoon.

He told the House of Commons’ Brexit Committee the “most likely outcome” was that the transition period would end without a deal in place.

“I think, regrettably, the chances are more likely that we won’t secure an agreement,” Mr Gove said.

“So at the moment less than 50%.”

He added that, although recent talks with the EU had made progress, “significant” differences still remain between the two sides.

“The process of negotiation has managed to narrow down areas of difference,” the Cabinet Office minister told MPs.

“It is certainly the case that there are fewer areas of difference now than there were in October or indeed July.”

Without a trade deal being in place at the end of the Brexit transition period in two weeks’ time, the EU and UK are likely to have to trade on World Trade Organisation rules from 1 January with tariffs imposed in both directions.

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