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Brexit talks must have breakthrough this week, say UK and Ireland ministers

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Without a deal, around US$1 trillion worth of trade is at risk of disruption from import tariffs and tougher rules, just as Britain and the EU are struggling to contain the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

London

THERE has to be a breakthrough this week in talks for a post-Brexit trade agreement, British and Irish ministers said on Sunday, ahead of the Dec 31 expiry of Britain's transition period for leaving the European Union.

Without a deal, around US$1 trillion worth of trade is at risk of disruption from import tariffs and tougher rules, just as Britain and the EU are struggling to contain the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

"This needs to be a week when things move, when we break through some of these difficult issues and get a resolution and at least have some sort of headlines, if you like, of an agreement," British environment secretary George Eustice told Sky News on Sunday.

"Otherwise, it gets quite difficult and we do start to run out of time to implement it," Mr Eustice added.

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Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said time was running out for a deal.

"If you want to use sporting parlance, this is move week. We have got to make big progress this week. Hopefully we've got to get the big issues resolved, in principle, this week," Mr Coveney told Sky.

"This is very difficult but it is also very doable."

The negotiations have already missed several deadlines and remain stuck on issues such as fishing quotas, state aid rules and how to settle future disputes.

Britain's top Brexit negotiator said "some progress in a positive direction" had been made in recent days. "We also now largely have common draft treaty texts, though significant elements are of course not yet agreed," David Frost said on Twitter as he arrived in Brussels to meet his opposite number Michel Barnier. "We will work to build on these and get an overall agreement if we can. But we may not succeed."

Mr Coveney said London also had to back down from its plan to pass legislation for trade between British-ruled Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

London has acknowledged the bill could violate international law by over-riding the divorce agreement it has previously agreed with the bloc.

"There's no way the EU will agree to ratify a new agreement if the British government is breaking the existing agreement that's not even 12 months old and breaking international law by doing that," Mr Coveney said.

Mr Eustice said the British government planned to press ahead with the legislation and would restore parts of the bill stripped out by the upper house of parliament last week.

US President-elect Joe Biden has said Brexit must not undermine the US-brokered 1998 "Good Friday" peace deal for Northern Ireland, comments that have been seen as a warning to London over the bill.

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown said on Sunday that Mr Biden's election victory was likely to push Prime Minister Boris Johnson to agree a trade deal with the EU that would avoid the need for the legislation.

"I think the arrival of Joe Biden has made all the difference," Mr Brown told BBC television. REUTERS

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