Negotiations for post-Brexit trade deals have “entered the endgame” with the PM and EU president due to speak later
The UK government is set to go ahead with Brexit legislation that could potentially break international law, despite fears that this could upset the EU at a critical time for post-Brexit trade talks.
The UK Foreign Office minister James Cleverly has said that the government’s Internal Market Bill would be returning to the House of Commons today.
Time is running out to secure a trade deal post-Brexit, with Thursday’s summit of European Union leaders seen as the deadline for an agreement to finally be reached.
This weekend saw further Brexit talks on a possible trade deal, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s call with Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission President, on Saturday.
This comes after the United Kingdom has become the first country in the world so far to approve the vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 to be used. The vaccine has been given the go-ahead by the health regulator MHRA and will be rolled out from early next week.
Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen are due to talk again on Monday evening, to assess whether or not a trade agreement could still be reached.
However the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, was said to have told the bloc’s national ambassadors on Monday morning that he was “rather downbeat” about the prospects of a deal.
One EU diplomat said: “EU-UK negotiations have entered the endgame, time is running out quickly.”
“Despite intensive negotiations until late last night, the gaps on level playing field, governance and fisheries are still not bridged.”
“The outcome is still uncertain, it can still go both ways. The EU is ready to go the extra mile to agree on a fair, sustainable and balanced deal for citizens in the EU and UK.”
“It is for the UK to choose between such a positive outcome or a no deal outcome.”
A UK government spokesman said the pair would meet to “discuss issues related to their work as co-chairs of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee”.
“The Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee oversees UK and EU implementation, application and interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
“The work of the Joint Committee is separate from the ongoing free trade agreement negotiations.”
This comes after Debenhams is to be wound down following JD Sports pulling out of talks on a rescue takeover, placing 12,000 jobs at risk in a horror week for UK retail. The decision has been taken after a sale process, initiated by administrators after the collapse of the troubled 242-year old department store in April, was officially concluded.
Last month, the House of Lords removed the most controversial parts of the Internal Market Bill from the proposed legislation.
But Mr Cleverly said that those clauses would be reintroduced to the bill when it returns to the Commons today, with MPs set to vote on the legislation this evening.
“It contains clauses that we may need to rely on and, if we do need to rely on them, better that they’re there,” he said.
“It’s an insurance policy, like all insurance policies you’d prefer not to have to use it. But you would kick yourself if you need it and it isn’t there.”
Asked whether it was worth risking the EU’s anger by reintroducing the controversial legislation, Mr Cleverly replied: “Not having that in place would weaken our position and actually give an advantage to the EU negotiators.”
“And, in a negotiation like this, it is really key that both parties negotiate hard – I’m sure the EU negotiators are negotiating hard, but so is David Frost (the UK’s chief negotiator) and our negotiating team.”
“We do it in a spirit of positivity, but we do want to get a deal that works for the UK, an agreement that works for the UK.”