Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen have agreed that a Brexit deal must be sealed by Sunday or there will be no deal.
The new deadline date came after three hours of talks between Johnson and Von der Leyen on Wednesday evening where they to make progress.
Talks between the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier will resume in Brussels Thursday. Key sticking points remain fishing rights and regulatory requirements.
The ongoing talks have taken nine months and have often seen both sides disagree. The leaders said they should come to a deal or no deal outcome by the end of the weekend.
Johnson arrived at the commission’s headquarters just after 8pm local time, where he posed for pictures with Von der Leyen before retreating to a meeting room with their chief negotiators for a half-hour discussion.
Von der Leyen described the two sides as “far apart” while a Downing Street spokesman said the leaders held a “frank discussion” with both acknowledging “there were still major differences between the two sides.”
The commission president, Von der Leyen, tweeted: “We had a lively and interesting discussion on the state of play on outstanding issues.
“We understand each other’s positions. They remain far apart. The teams should immediately reconvene to try to resolve these issues. We will come to a decision by the end of the weekend.”
Sources said the leaders would not engage in a debate and did not intend to make any decisions on Brexit during the two-day summit. EU capitals now face a nervous wait for answers from Brussels.
Although the opposition Labour party is urging Johnson to agree a deal “in the national interest”, the Prime Minister is unlikely to face much resistance from his Conservative party, which boasts an 80-seat parliamentary majority, should he abandon talks on an EU trade pact and opt to trade with the bloc on World Trade Organisation terms from 1 January.
The House of Commons are likely to sit on Christmas Eve should it be required to pass a Brexit bill, Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, said on Wednesday. Under current plans, the Commons will stop sitting on December 21, but he told Sky News that recess could be delayed.
Meanwhile, JPMorgan economist Malcolm Barr has said that while such deadlines during the Brexit negotiation process had routinely come and gone, the odds of a deal had still weakened in the bank’s view.
“Given the lack of progress yesterday, we are nudging the likelihood of deal versus no-deal down to 60-40% from the two-thirds/one-third split we had previously,” he said in a note Thursday.