Alok Sharma: I hope UK and EU can ‘get there’ on Brexit deal before Dec 31

14 December 2020, 10:48 | Updated: 14 December 2020, 10:57

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Business Secretary Alok Sharma told LBC today that he hopes the UK can reach a trade deal with the EU by the end of December, saying “there will be no discussions beyond that point”.

But amid concerns no-deal is the still the most likely outcome, the cabinet minister also insisted the UK would “prosper” under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

WTO terms would see tariffs introduced from January 1 - a move that is predicted to cost jobs, cause food prices to rise and wipe £45 billion off the economy next year.

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And as time runs out for a deal to be made, Mr Sharma admitted to LBC’s Nick Ferrari there was the “practical issue” of Parliament needing to approve any agreement, but said: “Of course Parliament has shown that it can act very quickly.”

He added: “I understand that for businesses as well they will be looking to see what sort of arrangement we reach, so I hope that we can get there before [the end of the year].”

It comes as talks continued in Brussels on Monday between negotiators from the UK and EU on a post-Brexit trade deal.

A deadline to finish talks had been set for Sunday, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed to an extension.

Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen spoke for 20 minutes on the phone on Sunday and said after the call they would "go the extra mile" and continue discussions.

Mr Sharma insisted the UK is still determined to reach a Canada-style deal with the EU.

“We want to do so on the basis of zero tariffs, zero quotas,” he said.

But asked for his views on a possible no-deal, Mr Sharma said: “I think we will prosper on WTO terms.”

Challenged by Nick Ferrari on what he meant by this, he added: “There are businesses that of course supported the bid to leave the European Union 

“Of course we are going to have control of our borders, our moneys, our laws but I’ve also been on your programme in the last few weeks and talked about the green industrial revolution, the money the Government alongside the private sector is putting into renewables and a whole range of other technologies and I’ve talked to investors in those sectors - they want to invest in the UK and of course that will happen irrespective of the type of arrangement we reach with the EU.”

Mr Johnson said on Sunday the UK would not be walking away from the negotiating table and that "where there is life, there is hope".

But the Conservative leader continued to warn a no-deal outcome was still the most likely scenario.

"The most likely thing now is, of course, that we have to get ready for WTO terms, Australia terms," the Prime Minister said.