British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will join a video-conference with EU leaders on Monday, keen to make headway in negotiations on a future EU-UK relationship, but officials in Brussels expect no breakthrough in the Brexit deadlock.
Britain’s Mail on Sunday reported that Johnson would use the meeting to “bang the table”, pressing the 27-nation European Union to aim for an agreement by the end of the summer and not to use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to drag its feet.
However, officials in Brussels said the afternoon discussion with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the heads of the European Council and European Parliament was a long-scheduled stock-taking exercise, not a negotiation.
“No one expects any breakthrough unless Boris Johnson decides to surprise us,” said one senior official. “This meeting was scheduled in the withdrawal agreement, so it is happening but no one expects much.”
Britain left the EU in January and its relationship with the bloc is now governed by a transition arrangement that keeps previous rules in place while the two sides negotiate new terms.
London confirmed last week that it had no intention of extending the transition period beyond the end of this year, a prospect some fear may lead to a no-deal Brexit that could compound the economic damage caused by the coronavirus crisis.
London and Brussels remain far apart on issues such as fair competition guarantees and fishing rights.
In talks this month, negotiators made very little progress towards a free trade pact, but they agreed to intensify negotiations and the hope is that Monday’s talks with Johnson will open the way for a renewed political push.
One EU official said the conference would be an opportunity for the bloc’s leaders to emphasise that the insistence of their chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, on a broad deal that would keep Britain closely aligned with the EU reflected the will of all member states and not his intransigence.
Another said that despite plans to speed up negotiations, major progress was unlikely until after the summer when London would “scramble to get something done” in the 11th hour, as it did last year to clinch a deal on its withdrawal agreement.