UK's Johnson Upbeat On EU Trade Deal Before Key Talks

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the Conway Heathrow Asphalt & Recycling Plant construction site in west London, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the Conway Heathrow Asphalt & Recycling Plant construction site in west London, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Saturday that theres a good deal to be done with the European Union on postBrexit trade, as he prepared for crunch talks with the head of the blocs executive arm.

LONDON: The prime minister of Britain and the chief of the European Union told their chief negotiators Saturday to get back together and push intensively to strike a post-Brexit trade deal before time runs out in a matter of weeks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen held a video call in a bid to overcome a stubborn roadblock in the trade negotiations.

In a joint statement, the two said that progress had been made in recent weeks but that significant gaps remained, notably but not only in the areas of fisheries, the level playing field, and governance.

The statement said they instructed their chief negotiators to work intensively to try to bridge those gaps.

Britain left the EU politically in January after more than 45 years of membership, but remains economically tied to the bloc until a Brexit transition period ends on Dec. 31.

The two parties are trying to strike a rudimentary trade deal before then, to avoid a barrage of uncertainty, tariffs and red tape that would hurt economies on both sides.

But while negotiators have inched close to agreement in many areas during six months of talks, they remain deadlocked over European fishing boats access to U.K. waters, and over the level of support governments can give to industry. The EU is concerned that British plans to subsidize sectors such as technology will amount to unfair competition.

We should not forget that we have made progress on many, many different fields. But, of course, the most difficult ones are still completely open, von der Leyen said Friday.

We want a deal because we think it is better to have a deal as neighbors also, on top of these COVID times with devastating impact on the economies, she said. But not at any price.

Johnson said before Saturday’s call that theres a good deal to be done with the EU.

Johnson told reporters that the U.K. wants a free trade deal along the lines of the one the EU has with Canada, but is also prepared for negotiations to fail.

Were resolved on either course, were prepared for either course and well make it work, but its very much up to our friends and partners, Johnson said.

Johnson says an Oct. 15-16 EU summit is effectively the deadline for a deal if it is to be ratified by year’s end, though EU officials think talks may drag on beyond then.

Johnson insists that Britain will thrive even if it ends the transition period without a deal. But economists say it would be a heavy blow, introducing tariffs and other barriers to trade with the EU, which accounts for almost half of the U.K.s trade.

Talks have been soured by Britains decision last month to introduce a bill that breaches the legally binding divorce agreement it struck with the bloc less than a year ago.

The EU has launched legal action against the U.K. over the Internal Market Bill, which if passed into law will undermine the EUs previously agreed oversight of trade to and from Northern Ireland, which shares a border with EU member Ireland.

The EU is furious that Britain plans to breach portions of the withdrawal treaty that were put in place to maintain an open Irish border, which has underpinned peace since Northern Irelands 1998 Good Friday accord.

The U.K. government insists it respects the peace accord and the Brexit withdrawal agreement, but it says it wants the law as a safety net in case the EU makes unreasonable demands after Brexit that could impede trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

The bill has been passed by the House of Commons but must be approved by Parliaments upper chamber, the House of Lords, where it is sure to meet strong opposition.

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