The EU has told Boris Johnson that it is “time for the UK to put its cards on the table” in post-Brexit trade negotiations.
The plea came from European Council President Charles Michel after he spoke with the Prime Minister on Wednesday.
Both sides agreed that “significant areas of difference remain” in trade talks, and Downing Street said Mr Johnson told Mr Michel that businesses and citizens needed “certainty very soon”.
Just talked to @BorisJohnson
The EU prefers a deal, but not at any cost.
Time for the UK to put its cards on the table. #EUCO #15-16October
— Charles Michel (@eucopresident) October 7, 2020
The Prime Minister has set a deadline of October 15 if a deal is going to be in place by December 31, when the transition period in which the UK remains in the single market ends.
Formal talks have come to a close but informal discussions are under way this week in London.
After talking to the Prime Minister, Mr Michel tweeted: “The EU prefers a deal, but not at any cost.
“Time for the UK to put its cards on the table.”
No 10 said Mr Johnson reiterated that the UK would be prepared to leave at the end of the transition period without a trade deal, but accepted brokering one would be “better for both sides” and that talks should “intensify”.
“Although some progress had been made in recent discussions, they acknowledged that significant areas of difference remain, particularly on fisheries,” a statement read.
“The Prime Minister reiterated that any deal must reflect what the British people voted for and that businesses and citizens needed certainty very soon on the terms of our future relationship.”
Earlier in the day, the UK’s chief negotiator, Lord Frost, told the Lords EU Committee that a trade deal with the EU remained “some way away”.
He welcomed “quite good progress” in recent weeks and said that “in many areas, the landing zone in the nature of the agreement is pretty clear if not exactly pinned down yet”.
But he said progress was needed in areas with “big gaps” remaining, such as fisheries and the level playing field, which continued to be “pretty wide”.
Lord Frost said: “I feel we are some way from a deal at the moment, if I’m honest, but we are at least having a decent discussion on this and what’s possible and isn’t possible.”
He was pressed on whether October 15 remained a hard deadline.
“As we approach the 15th, and it is very close already, I will have to advise the Prime Minister on whether the conditions in his statement have been met or not and we will have to consider the situation at that point,” Lord Frost said.
But he insisted that “our door would never be closed” and said even if a free trade deal could not be reached, talks could continue later this year on “practical matters”.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who also appeared before the committee, said “time is running out” to get ready for the end of the transition period and that preparations were “intensifying as we speak”.