EU's von der Leyen says UK trade deal still possible despite law row

EU leader Ursula von der Leyen says a UK trade deal IS still possible despite Boris Johnson’s ‘unpleasant surprise’ attempt to break international law – as Dominic Raab tries to get the US to put pressure on Brussels

  • von der Leyen said controversial UK plns had ‘distracted very strongly’ from talks
  • But she was ‘still convinced’ a deal with London ‘can be done’ before 2021
  • Raab used a CNN interview to encourage US to intervene over Northern Ireland 

The head of the European Commission believes the EU can still strike a trade deal with Britain despite the frosty deadlock between the two sides.

Ursula von der Leyen lashed out at Boris Johnson over his ‘unpleasant surprise’  attempt to override the Brexit treaty he signed last year.

But addressing reporters last night she said that while the row over the controversial UK Internal Market Bill (IMB) had ‘distracted very strongly’ from the two sides being able to secure fresh trade terms she was  ‘still convinced’ a deal with London ‘can be done’.

Her comments came as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab used a CNN interview to encourage the United States to put pressure on Brussels on the UK’s behalf.

Donald Trump and his administration are at loggerheads with the EU over trade tariffs. 

But Democrats including presidential challenger Joe Biden have warned the UK that if the IMB threatens the Good Friday Agreement by forcing a hard border on Ireland it would scupper the separate trade deal being negotiated between London and Washington. 

 Despite the wrangle over the Bill – which has been derided by every living former prime minister and scores of senior Tory backbenchers, Ms von der Leyen said she remained sure that consensus on a future partnership with the UK could be reached.

 But she warned: ‘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.’

Ursula von der Leyen (pictured today with Angela Merkel) lashed out at Boris Johnson over his ‘unpleasant surprise’ attempt to override the Brexit treaty he signed last year.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab used a CNN interview to encourage the United States to put pressure on Brussels on the UK’s behalf, while on a visit to Washington

The post-Brexit transition period, during which relations between the European Union and the UK have remained static, is due to end after December 31 and leaders on both sides of the Channel have warned that 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, the Prime Minister has faced criticism domestically 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 was forced on Wednesday to agree 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, telling a press briefing that its position had not changed and it still wanted the offending clauses to be withdrawn from the legislation.

Mr Raab, in an interview with CNN, said: ‘I think it would be helpful for all those concerned about this to elicit the same unilateral, absolute commitment not to require any infrastructure at the border between the North and the South. So far it’s actually only the UK that has said that,’ Mr Raab said.

He added: ‘I think actually if the EU did come out and make the same commitment it would also help the negotiations. So I hope our American colleagues will reinforce that point on both sides.’

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