UK could play off EU against US by holding parallel post-Brexit trade talks
- Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Downing Street has hinted the UK could hold post-Brexit trade talks with the EU in parallel with the US.
In a move which could 'play off' the EU against the US, the prime minister'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.
The spokesperson said: "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 that Johnson's ministers are split over how best to negotiate a new trade deal with the EU, with some figures, including Dominic Raab and Liz Truss, reportedly pushing for parallel talks with the US to put pressure on the EU.
However the newspaper said other ministers think it is "unrealistic" to use the US talks as a leverage against Brussels.
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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.
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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.