EU-UK spat over Brexit deal clouds key trade talks this week

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Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove, center right, and Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Inter-institutional relations and Foresight Maros Sefcovic, center left, attend the third meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee at EU headquarters in Brussels, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. At center on screen is EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier joining by videoconference. (John Thys, Pool via AP)

BRUSSELS – Britain entered a crucial week of post-Brexit talks with the European Union on Monday by rejecting the EU’s demand that it drop plans to breach the legally binding agreement it signed on its departure from the bloc. The EU told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to brace for a legal fight.

The EU insisted that abiding by every last detail of the international treaty that regulated the U.K.'s departure on Jan. 31 was key to maintaining trust and hopes of salvaging a rudimentary trade deal in the next few weeks.

After a short meeting between the two sides in Brussels, U.K. Brexit planning minister Michael Gove said Britain wouldn't withdraw its Internal Market Bill, which includes clauses to override parts of the Brexit withdrawal treaty.

“Those clauses will remain in that bill” as a safety net in case the U.K. and the EU don't reach a trade agreement, Gove said.

The EU renewed its threat to take legal action if the U.K. doesn't drop the bill, which is currently passing through Parliament.

“We are considering all legal options available to us," European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said.

The rift means that talks between the two sides' trade negotiators will begin Tuesday under an ominous cloud. Britain and the 27-nation bloc have just weeks to strike a deal before a post-Brexit transition period runs out on Dec. 31.

Both sides stand to lose hundreds of thousands of jobs and a big chunk of their income if they fail to find a compromise agreement. Yet Brussels and London have been digging in their heels, both vowing not to compromise on key issues.