France’s European Affairs Minister Amélie de Montchalin on Monday kept the threat of a no deal Brexit on the negotiating table, as she warned that the EU27 wanted to reach a post-divorce deal with Britain before the end of the year – “but not at any cost”. Mlle de Montchalin said in a Twitter post: “[The EU27] remain united on one inviolable principle: we do not want to reach an accord at any cost. What we want is a good deal for Europeans.”
She was reacting to an earlier post by the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, in which he said the EU was “preparing to negotiate an ambitious and lasting partnership [with Britain] that will take into account European interests”.
Negotiations for a deal on future EU-UK relations are not scheduled to start until next month, but London and Brussels have already clashed over trade.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Sunday warned Britain to expect a bitter battle in trade talks with the EU, saying the two sides would likely “rip each other apart”.
M Le Drian said at the Munich Security Conference: “I think that on trade issues and the mechanism for future relations, which we are going to start on, we are going to rip each other apart.
“But that is part of negotiations, everyone will defend their own interests.”
Britain made equally cutting remarks, saying on Monday that London would not be cowed into following EU rules in the future by talk of an economic war and was ready to trade with the bloc on basic international terms if necessary.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Europe advisor, David Frost, told a lecture at a Brussels university: “We are not frightened by suggestions there will be trade frictions.
“We are not asking for anything special; we are asking for a simple free trade agreement.”
He added: “It is central to our vision that we must have the ability to set laws that suit us.
To think that we might accept EU supervision on so-called level playing field issues simply fails to see the point of what we are doing.”
Should a free trade deal not be possible because of the bloc’s insistence that Britain aligns itself with EU rules, London is ready to trade with the EU27 according to the same basic international rules as Europe now follows with Australia, Mr Frost stressed.
The EU has retorted that it has no problem with that, but that the further removed those rules are, the less advantageous the trade deal.
Mr Frost’s speech came as a response to one delivered recently in London by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who urged Mr Johnson to agree to level playing field guarantees of fair competition based on ambitious environmental and labour standards.
Brussels demands these level playing field clauses to protect itself from the British side gaining an unfair advantage.
The Johnson government, for its part, has pledged to maintain the “highest standards” in these areas.
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