Britain and the European Union failed on Friday to secure a trade agreement, saying talks would be paused so negotiators could talk to politicians to get better guidance on where to go next.
With less than four weeks left until Britain leaves the EU’s orbit on Dec. 31, both sides have said the talks are stuck on three areas, with each calling for the other to compromise to secure a deal governing almost $1 trillion of annual trade.
“After one week of intense negotiations in London, the two chief negotiators agreed today that the conditions for an agreement are not met, due to significant divergences on a level playing field, governance and fisheries,” they said in a statement.
“On this basis, they agreed to pause in order to brief their principals on the state of play of the negotiations. [European Commission] President [Ursula] von der Leyen and Prime Minister [Boris] Johnson will discuss the state of play tomorrow afternoon.”
Earlier on Friday, there were contradictory reports about how far the talks had progressed, with some EU officials saying they were on the brink of agreement while British officials said the process was “very difficult.”
Britain formally left the EU on Jan. 31 but has been in a transition period since then under which rules on trade, travel and business remain unchanged. From the end of the year, it will be treated by Brussels as a third country. Any deal must be approved by lawmakers in Britain and the EU before year’s end.
Talks have dragged on as one deadline after another has slipped by. First, the goal was a deal by October, then by mid-November. On Sunday, Britain said the negotiations were in their final week.
If the two sides fail to reach a deal, the five-year Brexit divorce will end in disorder just as Europe grapples with the vast economic cost of the COVID-19 outbreak.
If there is no deal, New Year’s Day will bring huge disruption, with the overnight imposition of tariffs and other barriers to U.K.-EU trade. That will hurt both sides, but the burden will fall most heavily on Britain, which does almost half its trade with the EU.
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