In Brief

Is Boris Johnson on the verge of securing a UK-EU trade deal?

Official says PM looks set to make concessions as clock ticks down to agreement deadline

Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator has hinted that Boris Johnson is willing to compromise with the EU about the contentious issue of state aid in order to land an “eminently achievable” trade deal.

Lord David Frost told members of the House of Lords and MPs yesterday that the prime minister is “prepared to discuss commitments on subsidy policy that go beyond conventional trade agreements”, The Times reports.

Subsidies to business, otherwise known as state aid, have become a sticking point in the talks, with Downing Street repeatedly insisting that it should not be part of any agreement with the EU.

“After a long period in which we’ve been making little progress on subsidy policy, we are having somewhat more constructive discussions on that subject, although unfortunately, the gap between us is still pretty wide and a lot of work has to be done,” Frost told the House of Lords EU Committee.

But “we’re beginning a discussion, is it possible to go further than normal in an FTA [free trade agreement] and agree some provisions that shape and condition subsidy policy on both sides”, he added. 

The shift is believed to mark the first time that Britain has offered “more than the scantest detail about its planned subsidy regime after the post-Brexit transition period ends”, The Irish Times says.

Frost said the UK would not include an “extensive text setting out detail of how we design our [subsidy] system” in a deal with the EU, but added that the country may benefit from agreeing measures to resolve any future disputes with the bloc over state aid.

With just a week to go until the next EU summit, the coming seven days will be “critical” in determining whether a deal is possible, The Times says.

Frost struck an optimistic note, however, saying: “We’ve made progress. This is a wide-ranging agreement and in many areas the nature of the agreement is clear if not pinned down.”

Meanwhile, during a phone conversation yesterday, Johnson told European Council President Charles Michel that “although some progress had been made... significant areas of difference remain”. 

Michel later tweeted: “The EU prefers a deal, but not at any cost. Time for the UK to put its cards on the table.” 

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