Boris Johnson has held Brexit telephone talks with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, as the clock ticks down to the deadline for a deal.
The two leaders spoke on Saturday with seemingly just days remaining for an agreement on a future trade deal to be reached, after UK and EU negotiating teams met on Friday for what sources said was a positive meeting.
With the negotiators, led by UK’s David Frost and the EU’s Michel Barnier, due to reengage on Monday, No 10 said the prime minister “set out the latest state of play in the negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and the EU”.
The No 10 spokesperson added: “[Johnson] confirmed the UK’s commitment to exploring every avenue to reach an agreement. He underlined that a deal was better for both sides, but also that the UK was prepared to end the transition period on Australia-style terms if an agreement could not be found.
“The prime minister emphasised that progress must be made in the coming days to bridge the significant gaps, notably in the areas of fisheries and the level playing field, through the process of intensive talks between chief negotiators agreed with the president of the European commission. The leaders agreed to keep in touch on the issue.”
Johnson has publicly suggested that the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday is his deadline for a deal. He said in September that failure to reach an agreement would mean it was time to “accept that and move on”.
Frost reiterated the comments during a parliamentary hearing this week, but a senior EU diplomat said this was not Brussels’s understanding following private discussions.
“I don’t detect any readiness on the British side to suspend the negotiations,” the source told the Guardian on Friday. “This is going to continue. It is not a deadline.”
The talks are expected to go right up to Thursday afternoon when the 27 heads of state and government sit down. “We need to get a little bit more from the UK side, or Michel Barnier needs to, before he is ready to use, as he says, the ‘submarine’ or the ‘tunnel’,” the senior EU diplomat said.
Both sides have said an agreement needs to be struck in October to ensure sufficient time for ratification. Johnson and Macron also discussed the coronavirus crisis in their bilateral discussions.