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Number 10 says an EU free trade deal still possible despite legal threats

Now that Boris Johnson has been returned to 10 Downing Street with an overall majority, businesses in Northern Ireland can finally start planning around Brexit
Gavin Cordon, Press Association

Downing Street has insisted a post-Brexit free trade deal with the EU is still possible despite an increasingly bitter war of words with Brussels amid the threat of legal action.

The European Commission has given the UK until the end of the month to drop legislation enabling ministers to override provisions in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland.

Following a stormy meeting in London yesterday, the commission warned the UK was putting trade talks at risk and said it would "not be shy" of taking legal action.

READ MORE: Ministers seek legal advice on halting expansion of Northern Ireland port checks

The Prime Minister's official spokesman however reiterated the Government's position that the provisions in the UK Internal Market Bill remained "critical" to the preservation of the Northern Ireland peace process.

He said the UK would continue to strive for an agreement and called on the EU side to show greater "realism".

"We have engaged constructively with the EU throughout this process. We have negotiated in good faith and we will continue to do so," the spokesman said.

"We do still believe that there is a deal to be reached. We will work hard to achieve it.

"What we have been asking for is for more realism on the EU side about what it means for the UK to have left the EU and to once again be a sovereign nation."

With many senior Conservatives deeply concerned the Government is backtracking on its international treaty commitments, Boris Johnson will use a conference call with Tory MPs today to reassure them he remains committed to implementing the provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol.

But amid the worsening atmosphere between London and Brussels, it emerged the EU had even raised the prospect that it could block exports of animal products from the UK once the current Brexit transition period comes to a close at the end of the year.

The Brexit process has been thrown into fresh turmoil by reports of Government moves to bring in new laws which would override parts of the Withdrawal Agreement from the EU.. Picture by Jonathan Brady/PA

In a statement following the latest round of talks yesterday, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there were "many uncertainties" about the UK's animal hygiene regime.

He said "more clarity" was needed if Britain was to receive the "third-country listing" entitling it to export animal products to the EU.

On the British side, there was surprise at the comments as the UK continues to apply EU standards, although it is understood the issue has been raised previously in the negotiations.

A Government spokesman said: "The right to export is the absolute basis for a relationship between two countries that trade agricultural goods.

"It is a licence to export and entirely separate from the issue of food standards. It would be very unusual for the EU to go down this route and deny the UK listing."

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