EU and Britain far apart as key week of Brexit talks begins

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The European Union and Britain both said a post-Brexit deal was still some way off as they began a decisive week of talks in Brussels.

Britain left the EU last January and is locked in negotiations on a new trade deal from 2021, as well as on implementing its divorce agreement with the bloc.

EU national leaders are scheduled to assess the state of play at a summit next month, with a no-deal Brexit still possible.

Negotiations have stumbled over fisheries, fair competition and settling disputes, and Brexit talks descended into chaos this month when London proposed draft laws that would undermine its earlier EU divorce bill.

Britain’s Brexit supremo Michael Gove held talks with Maros Sefcovic, a deputy head of the bloc’s executive Commission, on Monday.

“The UK’s positions are far apart from what the EU can accept. I have repeated the EU’s request to withdraw the contentious part of the draft Internal Markets Bill by the end of September,” Sefcovic told a news conference.

“We maintain that the bill, if adopted in its current form, would constitute an extremely serious violation of … the Withdrawal Agreement and of international law,” he said, urging speedy progress before he meets Gove again in mid-October.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said in London that Britain’s focus is on trying to make progress in formal trade talks with the EU.

“As we are entering the final stages of the negotiations our focus is on what it will take to get a trade agreement in place, although the last two weeks of informal talks have been relatively positive there remains much to be done,” he said.

“From the start of this process we’ve been saying that we simply want the standard free trade agreement … we continue to be asked to accept provisions that do not reflect the reality of our status as an independent country.”

Trade talks resume in Brussels on Tuesday. Lasting until Friday morning and also due to cover energy cooperation and transport, they are the final round of negotiations scheduled so far.

EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday are expected to authorise more negotiations before their next summit on Oct. 15-16.

They will then assess whether to focus on pushing for a deal or preparing for a hard Brexit at the end of the year.

The EU says negotiators must seal a deal by the end of October or early November, to leave time for ratification by the European Parliament and some national parliaments so a deal can take effect from 2021 when Britain’s post-Brexit transition ends.