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Brexit

EU chief hails ‘better progress’ in post-Brexit trade talks

Gareth Fuller

By Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor

Talks on a post-Brexit trade deal have made “better progress” in recent days, the president of the European Commission has said, raising hopes that an agreement may be in sight.

Ursula von der Leyen said there were still “quite some metres to the finish” but that there had been “more movement” on important issues.

Her cautiously upbeat assessment comes after face-to-face negotiations were temporarily suspended on Thursday after a member of Michel Barnier’s EU negotiating team tested positive for Covid-19.

After weeks of difficult negotiations with little sign of movement, Mrs von der Leyen said she was encouraged by the latest round of meetings.

“After difficult weeks with very, very slow progress, now we have seen in the last days better progress, more movement on important files. This is good,” she said.

While the three main outstanding issues – fisheries, state aid rules and governance arrangements – were still to be resolved, she said negotiators were now working from legal texts with “substance where you can go through line by line.”

“Progress, for example, has been made on the question of state aid,” she said.

However with the current Brexit transition period due to end at the end of the year when Britain will finally leave the single market and the customs union, she acknowledged time was tight if they were to get a deal in time.

“There are quite some metres to the finish line. Indeed, time pressure is high without any question at the moment,” she said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said the Government still wanted to get an agreement “as quickly or as soon as possible”.

He said talks would continue remotely over the weekend and into the early part of next week with face-to-face negotiations expected to resume once it was considered safe.

“As soon as talks can resume in person they will,” the spokesman said.