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UK still at odds with EU over post-Brexit trade deal

By Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor
The UK Government has signalled that it will not give ground to key EU demands on a post-Brexit trade deal amid little sign of progress in the talks.

Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost briefed ministers on the latest round of discussions – which ends today – at the weekly meeting of the Cabinet on Thursday.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said he confirmed that the EU was continuing to insist on continued access to UK fishing waters – something the UK Government is determined to resist – as part of any agreement.

Mr Frost told ministers that Brussels was also insisting on a so-called “level playing field” with the UK continuing to adhere to EU standards on issues such as workers’ rights – another demand which Britain has said it cannot accept.

Ministers have argued that they are simply seeking the same terms as the EU has agreed with other countries such as Canada.

However, the EU has said the size of the UK economy and its geographical proximity means that a higher degree of alignment is needed to prevent it undermining EU standards.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “Cabinet agreed that we won’t agree to demands for us to give up our rights as an independent state, especially when the EU has shown through agreements with other countries like Canada that these controls are not necessary.”

“Cabinet gave its continued full support to the UK’s position in the discussions with the EU.”

Following this week’s talks, which have been conducted virtually due to the Covid-19 outbreak, there is only one more round of negotiations scheduled before the two sides take stock at the end of June on whether a deal is possible by the end of the year.

Boris Johnson has repeatedly insisted he will not seek any extension of the current transition period beyond December 31 – despite the potential economic impact if there is no agreement by that point.

Brussels has accused the UK side of trying to run down the clock in an attempt to force them to accept an agreement on its terms rather than suffer the widely anticipated disruption to trade if there is no deal.

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