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World

UK PM, EU chief held talks on Brexit, Covid: EU source

  • Johnson and von der Leyen are pressing to break a logjam over fishing rights with just nine days to go before Britain leaves the EU single market and customs union.
Published December 22, 2020

BRUSSELS: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen discussed Brexit and the coronavirus crisis in a phone call on Monday evening, an EU source said.

The previously undisclosed conversation came as London and Brussels try to thrash out a last-gasp post-Brexit trade deal and scramble to respond to a new strain of the coronavirus detected in the UK.

Johnson and von der Leyen are pressing to break a logjam over fishing rights with just nine days to go before Britain leaves the EU single market and customs union.

The two sides are haggling over the cut EU fishermen would take to their current catches in Britain's rich waters and the length of a transition period to phase in the changes.

The eleventh-hour talks have risked being overshadowed by the fast-moving crisis over the new coronavirus strain found by London, that has seen countries in Europe and around the world cut travel links to Britain.

The EU is scrambling to come up with a coordinated response after cross-channel traffic was left snarled as France shut down entry for passengers and goods.

Ambassadors from the bloc's 27 members are to meet later Tuesday to try to hammer out a joint plan to allow cargo to start moving again and EU nationals to return home.

While experts say there is no evidence the UK variant of the virus -- one of several mutations -- is more lethal or will affect the impact of vaccines, it may be up to 70 percent more transmissible, according to early data.

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