British Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a landslide election victory in December with a promise to “get Brexit done”. Britain left the European Union the following month, but the trading relationship between them has changed little during the transition period, which ends on January 1. That deadline is looming. When it arrives, Britain will no longer be a part of the European bloc’s single market or customs union. The two sides urgently need to strike a trade deal to provide much-needed clarity and avoid disruption at a time of deep economic gloom amid the Covid-19 pandemic. But Johnson declared trade talks with the EU to be effectively over last week. They would only resume if there was a “fundamental change” in approach by the EU. He had earlier expressed disappointment at the lack of progress. Each side has accused the other of intransigence. Johnson may well be bluffing, in an attempt to apply pressure, and it is to be hoped the negotiations will resume soon. But the stalling of the talks, after the EU appeared to have met British demands for their resumption, is worrying. Both sides are stepping up contingency plans for a deal not being reached in time. There is much to be done. Disagreements remain on key issues such as fishing rights and the EU’s demand for rules ensuring fair competition. Work is yet to begin on drafting the complex legal text of a deal. The agreement would then need to be ratified. There is no time to waste. The consequences of failing to reach a trade deal could be severely damaging, with the imposition of tariffs, intensive customs checks, licence requirements and border delays all likely to follow. These new barriers to trade would impose a terrible burden on businesses already suffering from the impact of the pandemic. The sooner a trade deal is done, the quicker Britain will be able to strike such deals with other countries. China was not on the list of nations Britain intended to prioritise for talks. But it should be. China is Britain’s third-largest export market and fifth-biggest trading partner. Securing such a deal would be in the interests of both countries, despite current tensions between them. But first, clarity must be provided on Brexit. And that requires a British-EU trade deal. Johnson should make a swift return to the negotiating table.