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European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, who is replacing Ireland’s Phil Hogan as EU trade chief, said it was impossible to rule out insufficient progress causing a no deal outcome.
The alternative of a no deal Brexit is not appealing, but we cannot exclude it
Speaking after a meeting of trade ministers in Berlin, Mr Dombrovskis said: “There are many outstanding issues.
“Progress on a number of key EU asks so far is not sufficient.
“So we would need to intensify negotiations substantially if we are to reach a successful outcome.
“The alternative of a no deal Brexit is not appealing, but we cannot exclude it.”
Mr Dombrovskis’s comments came after European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she was “convinced” a trade deal remains possible.
But she warned Downing Street’s controversial UK Internal Market Bill had “distracted very strongly” from the two sides being able to secure fresh trade terms before the looming deadline. MPs were debating the proposed legislation in the Commons today.
The post-Brexit transition period, during which relations between the European Union and the UK have remained static, ends on December 31 and leaders from both sides of warn an agreement is needed by October if a deal is to be ratified in time for the start of 2021.
With the cliff edge only a month away, Boris Johnson has faced criticism at home and on the world stage for pursuing legislation that would defy the withdrawal agreement brokered with the EU last year, breaking international law in the process.
Mr Johnson agreed to table an amendment to the Internal Market Bill, giving MPs a vote before the Government can use the powers related to Northern Ireland which would breach the treaty.
But the compromise has not seen Brussels back down, with Eric Mamer, chief spokesman for the European Commission, insisting its position had not changed and it still wanted the offending clauses to be withdrawn from the legislation.
Despite the wrangle over the Bill – which has been derided by every living former prime minister, scores of senior Tory backbenchers, US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Brussels – Commission president Ms von der Leyen said she remained sure that consensus on a future partnership with the UK could be reached.
Ms von der Leyen said: “Where the UK is concerned, we want an agreement, and I think the attempt to violate the withdrawal agreement distracted very strongly from the ongoing negotiations. This was an unpleasant surprise.
“And therefore it is time now that our British friends restore the trust in the validity of a signature under treaty, and that we keep on going, focused to negotiate because time is running out.”
Ms von der Leyen said she was “still convinced” a deal with London “can be done”.
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The commission president’s comments came as the UK confirmed “some limited progress” had been made between the negotiation teams during informal talks in Brussels this week.
A Government spokesman said: “The UK’s negotiating team had useful informal discussions with the EU this week as we seek to reach an agreement by mid-October on our future relationship.
“These covered a broad range of issues and some limited progress was made, but significant gaps remain in key areas, including fisheries and subsidies.
“We will continue to work hard to bridge those gaps in talks next week, without compromising our fundamental position of being an independent country.”
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