British PM Johnson to speak to EU chief as Brexit talks stall

LONDON, Dec 5 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will speak to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday to try to break an impasse in trade talks with time running out before Britain completes its departure from the bloc.

British and EU negotiators paused trade talks on Friday to call in their leaders to try to narrow gaps and get an agreement after a week of negotiations failed to bridge "significant divergences" between the two sides.

Britain left the EU on Jan. 31 but rules governing trade, travel and business have remained unchanged during a transition period which ends on Dec. 31, when a new relationship will be established - with or without a deal.

"We keep calm, as always, and if there is still a way, we will see," EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told broadcasters in London as he entered the train station to head back to Brussels after the talks were paused.

It was the latest twist in months of negotiations which have barely moved on the three thorniest issues - fisheries, ensuring fair competition guarantees and ways to solve future disputes.

Sources from both sides said the deadlock was centred on French demands over fishing rights in British waters.

But neither side has walked away from the talks, suggesting they still hold out some hope of securing a deal governing almost $1 trillion of annual trade to avoid a disorderly end to more than 40 years of British membership of the European club.

If the two sides fail to reach a deal, the five-year Brexit divorce will end messily just as Britain and Europe grapple with the vast economic cost of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the absence of a trade deal, the United Kingdom would trade with the EU on World Trade Organization terms, which would lead to new tariffs and potentially significant price rises for some goods.

A no-deal exit is the nightmare scenario for businesses and investors, who say it would snarl borders, spook financial markets and sow chaos through supply chains that stretch across Europe and beyond. (Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by David Clarke)

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