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Boris Johnson says bumpy ride ahead in pursuit of 'frictionless' EU trade deal

Boris Johnson has insisted the UK will be able to strike a "fantastic" deal with the European Union, but acknowledged there could be some "bumps in the road" during Brexit talks.

The Foreign Secretary said there was no reason why talks should not progress at "full tilt" to secure a trade deal alongside the divorce agreement during the two-year countdown that will start when Theresa May triggers Article 50 by the end of March.

Mr Johnson was speaking after a Cabinet discussion of progress towards Brexit negotiations, at which the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis told senior ministers their departments must prepare not only for Britain's "most important peacetime agreement", but also for "the unlikely scenario that no mutually satisfactory agreement can be reached".

The Foreign Secretary, addressing the British Chambers of Commerce conference in London, said the UK's compliance with EU red tape meant it was in a different position to other prospective trade partners.

"We have an unrivalled opportunity, it is unlike any other free trade deal the EU has ever done, in the sense that we are already exactly flush with our friends and partners on standards and tariffs and everything else," he said.

There was "no reason at all" why the UK should not be able to strike " a fantastic deal that is as frictionless as possible for British business".

But he acknowledged it " depends how our friends and partners choose to handle it", with some of the major players in Brexit talks facing domestic "electoral considerations".

The BCC has set out a series of demands for Brexit, including potentially delaying the break from the EU if a trade deal cannot be struck by the end of the two-year negotiation process.

Mr Johnson said he wanted to go "f ull tilt and get it done within two years".

But he added: "I'm not saying there won't be some bumps in the road, I'm not saying that from time to time some plaster won't come off the ceiling.

"But there's a lot of goodwill, and that goodwill is building rather than diminishing."

The BCC has set out a series of demands for Brexit, including potentially delaying the break from the EU if a trade deal cannot be struck by the end of the two-year negotiation process.

The organisation said concluding both the divorce arrangements and a new trade deal within the two years allowed by Article 50 would be the "ideal outcome", but "should this prove impossible, we should seek an extension to the negotiating period to enable completion of both agreements concurrently".

But Mr Johnson insisted the interests of EU nations in exporting cars, champagne and prosecco to the UK meant a deal should be in reach.

Britain would move from a position of membership of the EU to a relationship of friendship and partnership, with continued collaboration in areas ranging from defence to foreign policy, counter-terrorism and intelligence-sharing.

"What we need to do now is work with our partners to ensure we have a strong EU and a strong UK, connected by a fantastic free trade deal, which is manifestly in the interest of both sides," he said.

The Foreign Secretary's upbeat assessment followed Sir John Major's warning Britons were being presented with an " unreal and over-optimistic" picture of Brexit.

Mr Johnson said: "I think it's very important that as we set out on this journey that we are positive about the outcome."

Former prime minister Sir John had warned the diplomatic atmosphere was "already sour" before talks had formally begun.

Mr Johnson said when he first visited EU counterparts after the Brexit vote "t hey were in a state of shock, some of them, puzzlement, they hadn't expected the Brexit outcome" but "th at mood has almost entirely vanished" and "t hey really want to help us and to do a great deal".

The Foreign Secretary, who used his speech to mount a staunch defence of globalisation, also hinted progress was being made on post-Brexit trade deals.

He said while EU rules blocked International Trade Secretary Liam Fox from being able to "ink in" deals, "there's nothing to stop them doing it in pencil".

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