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Brexit: 'I can't say if there'll be a deal or not,' Von der Leyen tells MEPs

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By Alasdair Sandford
European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen speaks during a debate on the next EU Council and Brexit talks at the European Parliament in Brussels, November 25, 2020.
European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen speaks during a debate on the next EU Council and Brexit talks at the European Parliament in Brussels, November 25, 2020.   -   Copyright  Olivier HOSLET / POOL / AFP
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Ursula von der Leyen has given a frank assessment of the state of Brexit negotiations to the European Parliament, telling MEPs that she cannot say whether a deal will be struck or not.

The European Commission president said that despite "genuine progress" in talks with the UK in some areas, "there are still three issues that can make the difference between a deal and no deal... the level playing field, governance and fisheries."

The EU was ready to be "creative" during "decisive days" ahead, she added in her speech, but would not jeopardise the integrity of the Single Market.

The lack of a breakthrough on the familiar sticking points comes with the December 31 deadline barely five weeks away.

Radical changes to EU-UK trade rules will kick in on January 1 whether or not a deal is done, after the expiry of the post-Brexit transition period. But the extra costs and disruption will be amplified, and other arrangements left in limbo unless an agreement is reached on trade and future relations.

Despite months of talks between Brussels and London since the UK's departure from the bloc last January, and the need to allow time for any deal to be ratified, the obstacles to a deal remain largely the same as they were at the outset.

"These are decisive days for our negotiations with the United Kingdom. But I cannot tell you today, if in the end there will be a deal," von der Leyen told MEPs.

She said progress had been made on law enforcement, judicial cooperation, and social security coordination, while a draft text was ready on goods, services and transport. But the three "crucial topics" still remained unresolved.

"With very little time ahead of us, we will do all in our power to reach an agreement. We are ready to be creative. But we are not ready to put into question the integrity of our Single Market – the main safeguard for European prosperity and wealth," von der Leyen went on.

"Robust mechanisms" were needed to ensure fair competition over time, she said. There were still "serious issues" over enforcement, and "significant difficulties" on how to secure common standards over labour and social rights, the environment, climate change and tax transparency.

The Commission president cited "recent experience" in underlining the need for a "strong governance system", a reference to the UK's controversial Internal Market Bill which overrides part of the EU divorce deal on arrangements for Northern Ireland, breaching international law.

It was "essential to ensure that what has been agreed is actually done," she said, adding in conclusion that the EU was ready for a no-deal scenario.

Responding on Twitter to the president's address, Ireland's Foreign Minister Simon Coveney commented: "We are working for a deal, but need fairness, realism and pragmatic solutions to remaining issues. The outstanding issues are not new and EU have been consistent on them for months."