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UK-EU talks continue, but ‘time is short’ to reach post-Brexit deal

Aaron Chown

By David Hughes and Shaun Connolly, PA

Negotiations between the UK and European Union on a post-Brexit trade deal have resumed, but “fundamental” differences remain between the two sides.

The talks, led by Michel Barnier and Boris Johnson’s lead negotiator Lord Frost, had been paused after one of the EU team tested positive for coronavirus.

The negotiations are now taking place online, with Mr Barnier warning that “time is short” to reach a deal which needs to be approved before the transition arrangements expire at the end of the year.

The resumption of negotiations follows technical discussions over the weekend.

Mr Barnier said: “Time is short. Fundamental divergences still remain, but we are continuing to work hard for a deal.”

The UK leaves the EU’s single market and customs union at the end of the year and without an agreement there could be tariffs and quotas imposed on trade with the bloc.

Any deal would need to be approved by the EU’s leaders and MEPs and reports have suggested an emergency session of the European Parliament could be held as late as December 28 to vote on it.

Problematic issues including fishing rights, the “level playing field” aimed at preventing unfair competition in areas such as workers’ rights and state subsidies and the governance of any deal are yet to be resolved.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson talked up the chances of a post-Brexit UK-Australia free trade deal being secured.

The Prime Minister was speaking after his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison received an accolade at a virtual Policy Exchange think tank event.

Mr Johnson said the two nations had strong rivalries in sport, but “there is a huge amount that unites us”.

The Prime Minister joked an agreement between the UK and Australia would see an exchange of chocolate biscuits in the form of British Penguins and Australian Tim Tams.

He said: “And, of course, there is also the small matter of free trade.

“And, I am delighted that we are doing a deal, I hope that we will be able to conclude a deal, that will see, finally, the people of Britain able to access the supplies of Tim Tams – Tim Tam chocolate biscuits – in the quantities that we need.

“And the people of Australia able to get Penguins in exchange.

“Here’s to the UK-Australia free trade deal.”

A technology glitch stopped Mr Johnson virtually presenting the award to Mr Morrison, but he came back into the event after the Australian PM made a speech praising international co-operation.

Mr Johnson – who is self-isolating after coming into contact with a Tory MP who tested positive for coronavirus – had been set to introduce Mr Morrison as he received the inaugural Grotius Prize.

The think tank said Mr Morrison received the award “in recognition of his work in support of the international rules-based order”.

Mr Johnson’s comments come after Britain and Canada agreed to continue trading under the same terms as the current EU deal after the Brexit transition period ends at the close of the year.

The Government said the move clears the way for talks to begin next year on a new comprehensive deal with Canada.

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