Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union is “there to be done”, as the end of the transition period looms.
A deal would need to be agreed by mid-November to allow time for ratification but talks had stalled in recent months, with both sides struggling to reach agreement on at least two main sticking points.
The chief negotiators – Michel Barnier for the EU and David Frost for the UK – will resume talks in London this week.
On his arrival in London on Sunday, Mr Barnier said he was “very happy to be back” and “work continues” on securing a deal.
Speaking ahead of the talks, Mr Johnson said: “I’ve always been a great enthusiast for a trade deal with our European friends and partners.
“I think it’s there to be done, the broad outlines are pretty clear. We just need to get on and do it if we can. And I said that to [European Commission president] Ursula Von der Leyen just yesterday. And she totally agrees with me.”
The main obstacles to a deal are guarantees on fair competition, especially over state aid rules; and fisheries, a symbolic sector for Brexit supporters.
The move comes after Mr. Johnson and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen spoke by phone on Saturday for “a stock take” on the progress of the stop-start negotiations, with both acknowledging “significant differences” remain.
Another source of conflict between the two sides is Mr Johnson’s determination to press ahead with a controversial bill, despite warnings from US president-elect Joe Biden.
The Internal Market Bill, due to be voted on by peers this week, would override clauses in the Withdrawal Agreement which relate to Northern Ireland.
The government has already admitted it breaks international law.
Mr Biden, who has Irish heritage, said in September that the Good Friday Agreement should not be “a casualty of Brexit”, adding that a UK-US trade deal would depend on the agreement being upheld.
Mr Johnson said: “The whole point of that bill, and indeed the Finance Bill, is to protect and uphold the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process in Northern Ireland.
“And again, that’s one of the things that we’re united on with our friends in the White House.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer wrote in The Guardian: “If the government is serious about a reset in its relationship with the United States, then it should take an early first step and drop these proposals.”
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Today’s front pages: Thursday, May 6, 2021
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