UK says door remains 'ajar' for post-Brexit trade deal

Britain still wants to reach a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union despite the current deadlock, a senior government minister insisted ahead of fresh talks Monday.

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 and prepare for a no-deal exit after five decades of EU membership.

However, senior minister Michael Gove said on Sunday he was still hopeful there would be an agreement, telling TV interviewers the door remained “ajar” if the EU would change its position.

The two sides disagree on the rules for fair competition, 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.

– ‘Time is running out’ –

Chief European negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart David Frost are due to discuss the structure of talks on Monday, according to the European Commission.

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

Failure to strike a deal would see Britain and Europe revert to World Trade Organization 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.

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.