Merkel says no breakthrough in Brexit talks but remains ‘optimistic’

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel

BRUSSELS/LONDON (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday said she had no breakthrough to announce in EU talks with Britain but remained optimistic that sealing a deal on a new trade relationship after Brexit was still possible before the end of the year.

With just under two weeks before what both British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the EU have set as a deadline for reaching a trade agreement, there were still significant hurdles to finding a way to smooth relations when a standstill post-Brexit transition arrangement ends this year.

“I can’t announce a breakthrough,” Merkel told a news conference after two days of talks among the 27 national EU leaders in Brussels, including on Brexit. “As long as negotiations on Brexit are ongoing, I’m optimistic.”

Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheal Martin said earlier on Friday Britain must respect the Brexit arrangements it had agreed with the bloc for the sensitive Irish border as a fraught week with little progress towards a new trade deal wrapped up.

Johnson will speak to the head of the EU’s executive, Ursula von der Leyen, on Saturday to assess negotiations on their future relationship and agree next steps after the bloc launched a legal case against Britain over their earlier divorce deal.

Speaking after the summit on Friday, von der Leyen said it was time to “intensify” Brexit talks with time available by the end of the year to put a new deal in place running out.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” she said.

“We have made progress on many, many difficult fields but the main ones all remain very much open,” she added, naming guarantees on a level playing field of fair competition as a key sticking point. “There is still a lot of work to do.”