UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “pretty optimistic” a Brexit deal could be reached as he prepared for talks on Saturday with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen to determine the next steps in the fraught negotiations.
Johnson told The Daily Telegraph that the prospects of a year-end deal to avoid an abrupt Brexit separation “are very good if everybody just exercises some common sense and looks at the deal that is there to be done”.
The comments came ahead of a videoconference with von der Leyen to take stock of progress made in the latest round of talks.
British and EU negotiators said Friday trade discussions remained deadlocked on key areas, with London urging Brussels to give ground to avoid a damaging “no-deal” at the end of the year.
Both sides have pinpointed a European summit on October 15 as the latest an agreement could be reached for it to be ratified in time for it take effect at the end of December.
But von der Leyen has already warned against a deal “at any price”.
“This is so difficult, but overall where there is a will there is a way. I think we should intensify the negotiations,” she told reporters after meeting leaders of the 27-member bloc.
After the ninth round of talks in the tortuous process broke up in Brussels, with renewed commitments to find a way out of the impasse, there was clear acknowledgement the clock was ticking.
Despite indicating there were signs of agreement in a number of areas, UK negotiator David Frost warned disagreements over competition rules and fishing may be “impossible” to overcome without the EU giving ground.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she believed a deal was still possible, though she said that the next days would be crucial.
“As long as negotiations continue, I am optimistic,” she said. But she could “not announce a breakthrough as a matter of course either. That will be decided in the next few days”.
The von der Leyen and Johnson call also follows the launch of legal action by Brussels in response to the British government’s attempt to overturn parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
On Tuesday, British MPs backed a bill to regulate the UK’s internal market from January 1, when Britain completes its post-Brexit transition period and leaves the EU single market and customs union.
Johnson has pushed on with the legislation despite concerns in his own party and a warning from Washington that it puts Irish peace at risk.