Prime minister Boris Johnson has told French President Emmanuel Macron the UK wants to “explore every avenue” to secure a UK-EU trade deal, during a phone call on Saturday.
The PM admitted that there were still “significant gaps” and that “intensive talks” would be needed to bridge them, the BBC reports.
An EU summit is being held in Brussels on Thursday and Johnson has previously stated this would be considered a deadline for a deal by the UK.
Key differences between the UK and the EU remain around fishing rights, and the so-called level playing field, which relates to post-transition workers’ rights, environmental guidelines and state aid for business.
The EU wants the UK to stick closely to its rules, whereas the UK wants to make its own.
Talks last week between chief negotiators, the UK’s David Frost and Michel Barnier for the EU were thought to have been useful, reports the Guardian. The negotiators resume talks today, and it is hoped that Thursday’s EU summit will provide fresh impetus to move the negotiations into their closing stages.
If a trade deal cannot be signed, the UK will trade with the EU on World Trade Organization terms when the transition period ends on 31 December.
With just 80 days until the start of the post-transition era, Business Secretary Alok Sharma urged businesses to prepare for changes in a letter to be delivered to 600,000 firms today, the government has announced.
He directed businesses to a checker tool on gov.uk/transition to find out what changes they will need to prepare for – including new import and export processes, changes to how firms will hire people from the EU, and the way businesses provide services in EU markets.
Sharma stressed that the majority of these actions will need to be completed regardless of the outcome of UK negotiations with the EU.