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Britain is hopeful to secure a post-Brexit deal despite virus challenges

Britain on Monday maintained that a post-Brexit trade deal was still possible, despite a tight timeframe made more acute by the coronavirus outbreak and after European Union complaints about a lack of progress in talks. Britain left the EU in January but still, it is bound by its rules until end of this year. Will they secure any meaningful deal while they are crippled by the coronavirus?

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Britain on Monday maintained that a post-Brexit trade deal was still possible, despite a tight timeframe made more acute by the coronavirus outbreak and after European Union complaints about a lack of progress in talks.

Senior minister Michael Gove said he put the chances of securing a free trade agreement between London and Brussels at “better than two to one”, even as a deadline for extending the transition period approached on June 30.

Britain left the EU in January yet remains bound by its rules until the end of the year during negotiations.

Gove told a parliamentary committee the government had ruled out extending the transition period and claimed it would cost British taxpayers “billions” of pounds.

Securing an agreement was “sensible” to avoid the country becoming embroiled in EU budgetary discussions for the coming years, he added.

“Remaining in the transition period would mean we would be paying the EU money which many of us consider to be better spent on the NHS (National Health Service) or supporting our economy,” he added.

The deadline for reaching agreement was tight even before the coronavirus outbreak, which has seen Europe badly hit and forced governments in member states to impose national lockdowns.

Gove said 47 UK civil servants had been seconded from Brexit transition planning to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

Read more: Britain leaves the EU – then what?

The latest round of talks ended last Friday, with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier complaining about the lack of progress.

Concentrate minds

There have been renewed calls for an extension to the process because of the coronavirus outbreak, which has left more than 20,000 dead in Britain alone.

But Gove said that “in some respects it (the outbreak) should concentrate the minds of the EU negotiators, reinforcing the importance of coming to an agreement”.

Britain was not looking for a “bespoke, tailor-made” arrangement but one based on “existing precedents” with other non-EU member states such as Canada, he added.

“We’re simply asking for a set of off-the-peg arrangements,” he told the committee.

Both the EU and Britain have said key areas such as fisheries, and the so-called “level playing field” that governs open and fair competition, are major stumbling blocks.

Gove complained that Brussels had not recognised it was now dealing with an independent sovereign state rather than an EU state or aspiring member.

On fisheries, he said the existing access for EU states to British waters should no longer apply and it should be treated as an “independent coastal state” such as Norway, Iceland or the Faroes, with negotiations conducted annually.

“I hope the firmness which (Britain’s chief negotiator) David Frost has articulated our policy will lead the EU to reflect and to rethink because we’re not going to change our position,” he said.

Read more: Post Brexit challenges: Future of UK and EU uncertain

The same applied to the level playing field and governance, in particular criminal justice, and an EU request to monitor Britain’s adherence to the European Human Rights Act, he added.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk