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Brexit: Von der Leyen, Johnson say gaps between EU and Britain remain

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen leaves at the end of an EU summit in Brussels, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen leaves at the end of an EU summit in Brussels, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020.   -   Copyright  Francisco Seco/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed on Saturday to "work intensively" to resolve the "significant gaps" that remain between the EU and UK in talks over their future relationship.

A statement published by the European Commission on Saturday said that Von der Leyen and Johnson had agreed on the importance of coming to an agreement during a video conference, but that both sides could not agree on key issues.

In the joint statement, they said that “progress had been made in recent weeks but that significant gaps remained, notably but not only in the areas of fisheries, the level playing field, and governance.”

They had instructed their chief negotiators to work intensively to try to bridge those gaps, it said.

Both endorsed comments by their chief negotiators on Friday, during which the EU's Michel Barnier said that "persistent serious divergences" between the UK and the bloc remain after the latest round of talks between the two parties.

Barnier flagged in a statement that there had been "positive new developments" during the latest — ninth — round of negotiations on topics including aviation safety, social security coordination and the respect of fundamental rights and individual freedoms.

But he also highlighted that there had been "a lack of progress on some important topics" including the protection of personal data, climate change commitments or carbon pricing and that "persistent serious divergences on matters of major importance for the European Union" remain.

The two sides remain divided over long-term guarantees for open and fair competition, an agreement on fisheries, and robust enforcement and dispute settlement mechanisms.

David Frost, Britain's lead Brexit negotiator, described the latest talks as "constructive" and "conducted in good spirit".

But he said the lack of progress made on key issues was down to the bloc.

On the level-playing field, he said "the EU needs to move further before an understanding can be reached", and that "without realism and flexibility from the EU" the gap between the two sides on fisheries "risks being impossible to bridge".

"I am concerned that there is very little time now to resolve these issues ahead of the European Council on October 15" he added, vowing to "continue to be fully committed to working hard to find solutions, if they are to be found."