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UK says on Brexit trade deal: We can get there but not at any cost

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain and the European Union can clinch a Brexit trade deal and the shape of one is clear but London will not sign up to an accord at any cost, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s finance minister said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak speaks on Spending Review 2020 and the Office for Budget Responsibility's latest economic and fiscal forecast at the House of Commons in London, Britain November 25, 2020. UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS

With just five weeks left until the United Kingdom finally exits the EU’s orbit, both sides are calling on the other to move their positions to clear the way for a trade deal that would avoid a tumultuous finale to the five-year Brexit crisis.

Officials in Britain and the EU say the talks are still snagged on two main issues, fair competition guarantees and fisheries, but neither, so far, have shown a willingness to shift enough on either to make way for any breakthrough.

“With a constructive attitude and goodwill on all sides we can get there,” Sunak told Sky. “It’s clear what the shape of the deal looks like.”

“It is preferable” to get a deal, Sunak told LBC radio. “We absolutely should not be stretching for a deal at any cost, that is not the right thing to do.”

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European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday the EU was ready for the possibility of Britain leaving the bloc without a new trade accord despite “genuine progress” in the tortuous Brexit talks.

An official involved in the negotiations said a deal was possible, but not likely before the weekend at the earliest. An EU diplomat said it was more likely to come next week.

After a member of the EU’s negotiating team tested positive for COVID-19, this week’s talks have been conducted virtually - something Britain said it wanted to change as soon as the end of the week if possible, potentially to give them some impetus.

But it was not clear whether the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, who needs to follow the COVID guidance after the positive case, would return to London this week.

“We want to resume face-to-face negotiations’s for the EU to decide when and if they come,” the spokesman told reporters.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Paul Sandle and Elizabeth Piper; editing by Kate Holton, David Milliken and Mark Heinrich