LONDON / BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Britain’s Brexit leader Michael Gove said on Wednesday he was confident he could secure a trade deal with the European Union, while the bloc’s chief negotiator said he was determined to reach a deal.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson plunged Brexit into chaos earlier this month by launching, and then proceeding, a bill that would weaken part of the EU’s 2020 divorce agreement.
The EU says it cannot trust Britain if it violates international law, is investigating what legal action can be taken and demands London to back off the abyss.
But after two weeks of accusations between London and Brussels, the two most powerful players in the negotiations said Wednesday they were determined to strike a deal.
Asked on arrival in London before informal talks whether he was optimistic about reaching a deal, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told Reuters: “I am determined.”
Four hours later, Britain said it was also determined.
“We are absolutely determined to do everything we can to secure a deal,” Cabinet Office Minister Gove, one of Johnson’s most senior ministers, told parliament. “No agreement isn’t in anyone’s interest.”
Britain left the European Union in January but under transitional arrangements remains a member except for its name until the end of the year, by which time it hopes to reach a free trade deal with the bloc.
Talks have been concerned about fishing, state aid arrangements and how trade will flow to Northern Ireland, which will remain – under the 2020 divorce agreement – in an orbit closer to the EU than the rest of the UK.
Gove said the sticking point is that the EU still doesn’t understand Britain’s post-Brexit status as a sovereign nation, and is also trying to tie Britain into its rules.
“I believe we can overcome these difficulties and secure a free trade agreement that will be in everyone’s interest,” said Gove.
Barnier said the EU will be firm.
“We remain calm, respectful, realistic and resolute,” Barnier said, although he declined to comment on a bill that could rule out parts of Britain’s EU withdrawal agreement, the Internal Market Bill, or about a possible trade deal.
Britain has said it hopes not to use the proposed force, while the scheduling of the Internal Market Bill in the UK parliament means it will take most of October and November to be considered.
That means it won’t become law either before the EU’s late September deadline to withdraw the plan, or Johnson’s October 15 deadline for a deal with the EU.
“The timetable for passing the bill provides welcome room for constructive engagement on the concerns raised by Britain,” said a senior EU diplomat.
“My understanding is that a decision on possible EU legal action will not be taken until early October,” the diplomat said.
Although the EU holds a summit on October 1-2, right after the deadline expires, bloc leaders will not consider next steps in relations with Britain until another summit in mid-October.
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Written by Sarah Young and Elizabeth Piper; Edited by Michael Holden, Angus MacSwan, Alison Williams and Alex Richardson
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