Senior British minister Michael Gove put the chances of securing a trade deal with the European Union at less than 50% on Thursday, striking a pessimistic tone just two weeks before Britain completes its departure from the world’s largest trading bloc.

His downbeat prediction was in sharp contrast with remarks by the EU’s chief negotiator suggesting there had been good progress, as both sides try to prevent a turbulent finale to four years of tortuous discussions.

Optimism had been rising that a deal was imminent to keep the goods trade that makes up half of annual EU-UK commerce, worth nearly a trillion dollars in all, free of tariffs and quotas beyond Dec. 31.


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