UK says door not shut on post-Brexit trade deal

Talks expected to continue despite Johnson's tough rhetoric; EU negotiator Michel Barnier due to hold a video call with his British counterpart David Frost on Monday 

UK says door remains 'ajar' for post-Brexit trade deal
Michel Barnier is seen arriving in London for talks in this file photo from September. AFP image.

The European Union expects to resume Brexit negotiations this week and its top negotiator Michel Barnier is due to hold a video call with his British counterpart David Frost on Monday afternoon.

Despite the current deadlock, Britain still wants to reach a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union, a top government minister has asserted. Michael Gove said that despite Downing Street’s tough rhetoric, the door was not closed to further talks.

The UK had imposed a deadline of last week's EU summit for a deal, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was ready to walk away from trade and security talks and prepare for a no-deal exit, but sources on both sides expect the current suspension to be short.

Gove said on Sunday he was still hopeful there would be an agreement – if the EU would change its position.

The two sides disagree on the rules for fair competition, on how these rules will be policed and how much access EU fishing fleets will get to UK waters.

Britain wants to reassert sovereignty over its waters and have no EU legal oversight over the deal – insisting it wants a simple trade deal of the kind the EU signed with Canada.

But the EU says Britain's situation is completely different to that of Canada.

"I want a deal," Gove told Sky News. "I'm keen to conclude one but it takes both sides to compromise in order for there to be one.

"The EU is not doing so at the moment," he said, adding that Brussels did not seem serious in their desire to reach a deal.

"The ball is in his court," Gove said of Barnier.

'Time is running out'

Failure to strike a deal would see Britain and Europe revert to World Trade Organisation terms, with higher tariffs and quotas, potentially devastating for economies already weakened by the pandemic.

Gove will meet on Monday with EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic about the implementation of the divorce treaty governing the UK's exit from the EU on January 31.

Changes are coming whether there is a trade deal or not, as Britain's departure from the EU's single market and customs union will require new checks on both sides of the border, AFP reports.

The British government will this week urge businesses to speed up preparations to face the new customs rules.

It plans to launch an information campaign in the coming days under the slogan "Time is running out".

On Tuesday, Johnson and Gove will meet with representatives from British business organisations and companies.

"It is on all of us to put in the work now," Gove said in a statement, adding that "time is running out for businesses to act".

The European employers' organisation BusinessEurope has called on negotiators to find an agreement, saying it is "the only way to avoid uncertainty and major disruption".

Meanwhile, in a rare joint letter published in the Financial Times, the Church of England's top bishop warned against passage of the Internal Markets Bill, due to be debated in the House of Lords on Monday.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and five other senior clerics said the law could "profoundly affect" the relationship between the UK's four nations, and "further undermine trust and goodwill" between them.

With reporting by AFP