The UK has urged the European Union to reach a post-Brexit free trade agreement “by the end of the summer” as Boris Johnson held talks with Brussels chiefs.
Four rounds of negotiations have so far made little progress but the two sides have agreed to an “intensified” negotiating timetable as the clock counts down to the end of the current transition period at the end of year.
It comes after the EU formally accepted on Friday that the UK would not seek any extension to the transition which allows Britain continued access to the EU single market while talks continue.
The UK had previously indicated that it could walk away from talks with the EU if the “broad outline” of a deal was not visible by the June meeting.
But officials played down the prospect of “drama” at the summit, which was being conducted by video link.
Instead the UK hopes that the increased pace of talks over the coming months would add impetus to the negotiations.
The Prime Minister was expected to say that the talks need to be “swiftly concluded”, providing the public and business with certainty on the way forward.
While he will insist the UK still wants to strike an “ambitious” free trade agreement (FTA), he is expected to make clear that it is ready to start trading on World Trade Organisation rules from January 1 if a deal cannot be reached.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “You can expect the Prime Minister to welcome the fact that the European Commission president has agreed to an intensified timetable for FTA negotiations in July and also expect the Prime Minister to urge renewed energy and commitment to reach an agreement by the end of the summer.
“The high-level meeting was always envisaged as a moment to push the negotiations forward. We now need to get this resolved and deliver certainty for businesses at home and in the EU as soon as possible.
“We are looking to agree a high quality FTA based on the agreements the EU has already reached with other countries, but whatever happens we will be ready for January 1 when we will take back control of our laws, border and money.”
Ursula von der Leyen will be joined on the conference call by European Council president Charles Michel and president of the European Parliament David Sassoli.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, will be with Mr Johnson with the UK’s ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow also expected to join in the call.
It will be followed by a series of weekly talks at official level for five weeks, commencing on June 29, looking at detailed technical issues.
It is hoped that they will for the first time in these negotiations include face-to-face meetings, with both sides acknowledging that the remote discussions due to the coronavirus epidemic, have gone as far as they can.
Mostly notably the two sides remain far apart on the issues of future access to UK fisheries and the so-called “level playing field”, the extent to which Britain is required to follow EU rules and standards in return for access to the single market.
The prospect that they will be unable to reach an agreement has alarmed business groups, who warn that firms reeling from the impact of the coronavirus lockdown are ill-prepared to with a major upheaval in trading arrangements with the UK’s biggest trading partner.
French former Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau said the EU is preparing itself for a no-deal exit.
The MEP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are ready either for an agreement or for a no-deal and we are getting prepared more actively for a no-deal considering the circumstances.
“We believe it is possible to have an agreement – it has to be ready in October so that parliaments on both sides can ratify it.
“We believe it is possible because we have the political declaration which we negotiated together, signed together and should respect together – so, yes, the framework is here.”