June 19, 2020 / 4:40 PM / 21 days ago

EU wants new deal with Brexit Britain, but "not at any cost"

European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic broadcasted on a screen attend a news conference following European summit in video conference format, in Brussels, Belgium June 19, 2020. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is committed to reaching an agreement with Britain on their new relationship after Brexit - but not at any cost, the bloc said on Friday.

EU chiefs Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen briefed the 27 national leaders on Friday on the latest talks with Britain, which have made precious little progress since London left the bloc in January, and now face an end-year deadline.

“We jointly stressed our willingness to undertake all possible efforts to come to an agreement,” von der Leyen, the head of the EU’s executive European Commission, told a news conference after the summit. “For this we have to bridge wide divergences, which remain to be solved.”

The chairman of EU leaders echoed that sentiment, saying the bloc wanted a new deal with Britain, “but not at all costs”.

“We need to intensify the negotiations,” he told the same news conference, noting that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had refused to seek extra time for the talks beyond the year-end, when Britain’s standstill transition after Brexit runs its course.

While Johnson wants a loose trade deal with the EU, the bloc is seeking much closer ties for the future covering climate, fishing, transport and security.

Disagreements over how to guarantee fair competition, fisheries, rules for settling disputes or the role of the EU’s top court have so far prevented progress as the bloc seeks to tie London closely to its rules while Johnson wants to cut his country loose.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the EU discussions on Friday that a deal with Britain must materialise this autumn to leave enough time for ratification before 2021.

A French official said the leaders agreed that they must stick to their stance on fisheries and the so-called level playing field provisions aimed at ensuring fair competition.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Kate Abnett, Jan Strupczewski, Paul Carrel, Robin Emmott, Michel Rose; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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