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With a month until split, Brexit trade deal hangs in balance

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

European Commission's Head of Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom Michel Barnier walks from his hotel to the Conference Centre in London, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. With less than two months to go before the U.K. exits the EU's economic orbit, trade deal talks resume in London. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

LONDON – The British government told businesses on Tuesday to make sure they are ready for big changes when the U.K. makes its final Brexit break from the European Union in exactly a month. But with negotiations on a free-trade deal with the bloc stuck, firms say they still don't know key details of what those changes will be.

Michael Gove, the minister in charge of Brexit preparations, said trade talks were “getting close to the wire.”

“It’s certainly the case that there is a chance that we may not get a negotiation outcome, that’s why it’s important that businesses prepare for all eventualities,” he told ITV.

The U.K. left the EU early this year, but remained part of the 27-nation bloc’s economic embrace during an 11-month transition as the two sides tried to negotiate a new free-trade deal to take effect Jan. 1.

Talks have already slipped past the mid-November date long set as a deadline for agreement to be reached if it is to be approved by lawmakers in Britain and the EU before the end of the year.

Teams led by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and British counterpart David Frost met through the weekend in London with no breakthrough. Talks are continuing, and U.K. officials have said this is the last week to strike a deal.

The two sides remain stuck over key issues including the resolution of future disputes and “level playing field” provisions — the standards the U.K. must meet to export into the EU.

The biggest hurdle appears to be fish, a small part of the economy with an outsized symbolic importance for Europe’s maritime nations. EU countries want their boats to be able to keep fishing in British waters, while the U.K. insists it must control access and quotas.