Ahead of what are seen as “last chance saloon” talks, a UK government spokesman sought to strike an upbeat note, telling this website on Tuesday that the UK’s negotiating team had had “useful” recent informal discussions with the EU as it seeks to reach an agreement by mid-October on the future relationship between the two sides.
These, he said, covered a broad range of issues and some limited progress was made, but the spokesman added that “significant gaps” remain in key areas, including fisheries and subsidies.
“We will continue to work hard to bridge those gaps, in talks this week, without compromising our fundamental position of being an independent country.”
The EU is incensed at the UK’s Internal Market Bill - new legislation which overrides the Withdrawal Agreement.
In a Commons debate on Monday, former UK Prime Minister Theresa May said she “cannot support” the government’s plan to override parts of its Brexit agreement with the EU. She told MPs the move, which breaks international law, would damage “trust in the UK.”
The Bill will be voted on in the House of Commons on Tuesday, having passed its first hurdle last week.
“We will continue to work hard to bridge those gaps, in talks this week, without compromising our fundamental position of being an independent country” UK government spokesman
The Bill is designed to enable goods and services to flow freely across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland when the UK leaves the EU's single market and customs union on 1 January. But it gives the government the power to change aspects of the EU Withdrawal Agreement, a legally binding deal governing the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU earlier this year.
Pressure is mounting on both sides to reach a compromise with the ninth round of talks due to start in Brussels on Monday.
There are meetings this week of the chief negotiators David Frost and Michel Barnier and their teams in London while, next week (28 September to 2 October), the ninth, and possibly last, round of negotiations will take place in Brussels.
The EU has put the summit on 15 October in its own timelines as the point for finalising an agreement.
On this, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated last week, “The EU has been very clear about the timetable. I am too. There needs to be an agreement with our European friends by the time of the European Council on 15 October if it’s going to be in force by the end of the year.”
Regarding the chances of reaching a future trade deal, the UK government spokesman told The Parliament Magazine, “We have been engaging with the EU and setting out our rationale for including the clauses related to the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Bill. We cannot allow the peace process or the UK’s internal market to inadvertently be compromised by unintended consequences of the protocol.”
“There is no way you can extrapolate from our approach to these very specific parts of the Treaty to the UK’s international behaviour more generally. As a country we stand for international law and the rules-based international system and always will” UK government spokesman
He pointed out that the UK’s Michael Gove and Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič recently met, where Gove reinforced “that we are committed to the Joint Committee process and we hope we’ll reach a satisfactory outcome for both sides in that forum.”
The spokesman said, “Talks on our future relationship continue this week and we hope we can make progress.”
On the UK’s “international behaviour”, he went on, “we have set out the clear reasons why we have to take these steps - we cannot allow the peace process or the UK’s internal market to inadvertently be compromised by unintended consequences of the protocol. We expect other countries to recognise this and the exceptional circumstances we find ourselves in.”
He said, “There is no way you can extrapolate from our approach to these very specific parts of the Treaty to the UK’s international behaviour more generally. As a country we stand for international law and the rules-based international system and always will.”