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Talks on a future trading relationship between the UK and European Union post-Brexit continue this week as the clock continues to tick until the end of the transition period. Lord David Frost is in Brussels for another round of negotiations ahead of a European Council video summit on Thursday which has been touted as a deadline for a draft deal. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has insisted that Britain is prepared for whatever the outcome is.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Hancock said: “Lord Frost is going to Brussels this week to work with the Europeans and I’ve absolutely no doubt that he is the best possible person to carry out these negotiations for this country.
“Our red lines haven’t changed.
“We’re preparing for whatever the outcome is.
“Our preference is to get a deal and that is open to the Europeans if they choose to make the progress that’s needed.”
The UK formally left the European Union in January, but will continue to follow the bloc’s regulations until the end of the year – just over six weeks away.
If no agreement is in place at the end of December, goods travelling between the two parties will be subject to tariffs set out by the World Trade Organisation.
The issues which are still to be ironed out are thought to include the ongoing row over fishing rights, how any deal between the two parties would be governed, and the “level playing field” measures aimed at preventing unfair competition on issues including state subsidies.
Speaking ahead of the talks, which follow a similar round in London last week, Lord David Frost said there had been progress in a “positive direction” in recent days.
However, he added the talks may not succeed and reiterated the point made by Boris Johnson that the country must be prepared for a departure with a deal or without.
Deadlines imposed on a future agreement have proven to be soft in the past, with Mr Johnson saying in September: “There needs to be an agreement with our European friends by the time of the European Council on October 15 if it’s going to be in force by the end of the year.
“If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on.”
The mid-October deadline appeared to be scratched at the start of that month, when Downing Street and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen agreed to intensify talks during a video conference call, acknowledging “significant gaps remained” between the UK and Brussels.
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Any deal struck would be subject to ratification by EU member states, the European Parliament and the UK Parliament meaning time is tight.
The agenda for Thursday’s meeting of 27 European leaders does not mention Brexit, with the response to the Covid-19 pandemic instead taking centre stage.
But with only one other meeting – between 10-11 December – scheduled before the end date of the transition period, they could be seen as a key moment in the shaping of the UK’s departure.
Ireland’s foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said on Sunday a deal was “doable”.
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