Brexit: Talks enter final stage amid war of words over Internal Market Bill
Brexit talks have entered their final stage with little over two weeks remaining before the deadline for a trade deal passes.
"Significant gaps" still remain in areas such as fishing rights, the UK has said ahead of the ninth round of talks, but a huge disagreement over the controversial UK Internal Market Bill could leave negotiations dead in the water.
At talks in Brussels on Monday, European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic reiterated calls for ministers to scrap provisions in the legislation which could see the UK unilaterally tear up elements of the Brexit divorce deal.
At a news conference following the meeting of the joint committee on the implementation of the agreement, Mr Sefcovic said the EU “will not be shy” in taking legal action if the UK does not withdraw measures from the draft Bill by the end of the month.
A German minister warned the UK not to "play games" over the Withdrawal Agreement, aspects of which would be overridden if the Internal Markets Bill is implemented.
Europe minister Michael Roth said both sides now must "work with urgency to find a sensible solution" and warned "trust has suffered a lot recently" because of the controversial Bill being debated by MPs.
But Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who co-chairs the committee with Mr Sefcovic, said the Government intended to continue with passage of the Bill, which is due to go through its report stage in the Commons on Tuesday.
He said the provisions relating to the Northern Ireland protocol in the agreement were a legal “safety net” to ensure the Government could continue to protect the peace process if talks on a post-Brexit free trade deal fail.
Brexit trade negotiations have made slow progress thus far, with the main sticking points including trading relations between Britain and Northern Ireland, along with areas such as fishing rights, state subsidies and the rights of citizens.
Despite this being the final round of organised talks, Number 10 expects informal discussions to continue ahead of the October 15-16 summit of European Union leaders which Boris Johnson has made his deadline for an agreement.
The PM has indicated that he would be prepared to walk away from the negotiations if there is no agreement by the time of the next EU summit on October 15.
He has said that if there is no deal in place by then it would be too late to implement before the end of the current Brexit transition period which ends at the end of the year.