Britain could conduct post-Brexit trade talks with the United States in parallel to those with the European Union, Downing Street has hinted.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said the UK would be “free to hold trade discussions with countries across the world” after it has left the EU at the end of the month.
During a Westminster briefing, the spokesman was asked if Britain will conduct trade talks with the EU in tandem with those with the US.
He replied: “Once we have left the EU on January 31 we will be free to hold trade discussions with countries across the world and not just focus on discussing the future partnership with the EU.”
It follows reports in The Sunday Times newspaper that Johnson’s ministers are split over how best to negotiate a new trade deal with the EU, with some figures reportedly pushing for parallel talks with the US to put pressure on the EU.
However, the paper said other ministers think it is “unrealistic” to use the US talks as a leverage against Brussels.
The UK is scheduled to leave the bloc at the end of the month, and the British Government will push the necessary legislation through the House of Commons by the end of Thursday.
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) received its second reading before Christmas, and will be scrutinised at committee stage by MPs on Tuesday.
It is expected that the legislation will have a straightforward passage through the Commons after the Conservatives won a significant majority in the general election last month.
The Bill will undergo further scrutiny in the Lords next week but is expected to clear the chamber comfortably by the January 31 deadline.
PM Johnson will hold talks with the new European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Downing Street on Wednesday.
But Brussels insisted that trade talks would not be on the agenda at the meeting, which will also be attended by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said the meeting would “set the scene” for the Brexit process but in order to launch trade talks the European Council, made up of the 27 remaining EU nations, would need to approve a mandate “and we are not at that stage yet”.
“This is not a meeting that will go into the details of the trade negotiation per se,” he added.