British Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said on Sunday that there was a post-Brexit trade deal to be done with the European Union (EU) providing the bloc compromised its stance, days after both sides said talks were making little progress.
The United Kingdom left the EU on January 31, but the main terms of its membership remain in place for a transition period until the end of this year to allow it time to negotiate a free trade agreement.
But both Britain’s and the EU’s chief negotiators on Friday gave downbeat assessments of the latest round of talks, saying the other side had to give ground if any progress was to be made.
The stalemate has raised the prospect that there will be no deal struck, a scenario that would damage global trade as the world copes with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
On Friday, investors’ concerns about the state of the trade negotiations pushed sterling to its lowest level in more than a month.
The main sticking point in the talks has been so-called “level playing field” rules to ensure fair competition. The EU says they are indispensable to ensure Britain does not undercut its standards, but Britain rejects them as binding it to European laws.
Gove said this and issues such as future fishing rights remained sticking points.
“We’re making it clear to the EU we can’t do a deal on those terms,” he told Sky News. “But I am confident that there is a deal to be done. It just requires a degree of flexibility on the EU side which I’m sure that they will appreciate they need to show.”
However, The Mail on Sunday reported that the government was even preparing to walk away altogether if no progress was made at the next round of talks due to begin in 15 days time and the EU refused to compromise.
“Breakdown is entirely possible,” an unnamed senior government source told the paper.
The Sunday Times said a no-deal planning committee, chaired by Gove, was now going to meet regularly and that officials who had been seconded to help fight the COVID-19 outbreak were being moved back to plan to prepare for this eventuality.