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EU leaders pull all-nighter discussing climate change as Brexit forgotten

Deal on greenhouse gas prioritised over EU-UK talks

Jon Stone
Friday 11 December 2020 09:08 GMT
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

EU leaders have spent 10 hours discussing climate change in an all-nighter summit, postponing a scheduled update on Brexit.

The 27 prime ministers and presidents are gathered in Brussels for their October European Council, a day after Boris Johnson came to the city in a bid to extract concessions from the European Commission.

The leaders were expected to be given the latest info on Brexit over dinner on Thursday night, but the topic was not raised because of a long discussion about cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

At 8.20am, a bleary-eyed Charles Michel, the Council's president announced that leaders had agreed the EU would slash emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030.

Other issues that took priority over the extended dinner and working sessions included working up a common position on the bloc's approach to Turkey.

On Friday morning EU officials said Ms von der Leyen gave her "short" briefing on talks with the EU to sleep-deprived leaders at 8.30am on Monday. The update is understood to have lasted around 10 minutes.

One EU official said the impression left was that the “probability of a no deal is higher than of a deal”, describing the situation as “difficult”.

Thomas Byrne, Ireland's Europe minister, told the BBC: "Urulsa von der Leyen has just now briefed leaders here at the European Council summit on Brexit negotiations, and I think the message is that talking is still taking place, that certainly EU leaders want a deal, but that serious difficulties remain."

As leaders met for the meeting, Boris Johnson went on television in the UK to announce that he had ordered his cabinet to step up no-deal Brexit preparations.

The Commission had made a similar announcement earlier on Thursday, unveiling proposals to ensure "basic road connectivity", the continuation of flights to and from Britain, and controversially, access for its fishing fleets. 

Negotiating teams from the two sides are continuing to meet in Brussels on Friday and Saturday. Both sides have said that on Sunday they will decide whether negotiations should continue any further.

If no deal is put in place in time for 31 December the UK will leave the single market and customs union in an uncontrolled manner, amplifying expected economic disruption.

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