Boris Johnson’s Europe adviser David Frost said he would publish a draft free trade deal before next week’s round of talks with Brussels kicks off. It comes after Ms von der Leyen’s comments earlier on Monday drew widespread criticism. Speaking after the first round of meetings concluded, she said the EU needed their British partners to establish clear ground rules on its approach.
She told reporters in the Belgian capital: “We are aware that there are differences in the approach towards what scope should the future agreement have and what are – if I may say so – the rules of the game everybody has to abide to.
“So it will be important that the UK makes up its mind – the closer they want to have access to the single market, the more they have to play by the rules that are the rules of the single market.
“If this is not the UK’s choice then, of course, they will be more distant and it will be more difficult for the UK to access the single market.
“So I think it’s up to the UK within the negotiations to think about the trade-offs they want to take into account.”
Downing Street was quick to hit back at Ms von der Leyen to defend itself.
The official spokesman for Mr Johnson insisted the government has clearly laid out its position.
He said: “The UK has made up its mind very decisively and has been very clear about what it wants from its future relationship with the EU.”
The Prime Minister had said he favoured a Canada-style trade agreement with the EU after Brexit.
But critics have pointed out such a deal took seven years of talks before it was eventually signed.
And Stefaan De Rynck, an adviser to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, dismissed the idea.
Mr Rynck said the UK faces “a different ball game” when it comes to trade negotiations.
Mr Gove also wasted no time in responding to Ms von der Leyen’s speech.
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The Cabinet minister said: “The UK’s team made clear that on January 1 2021, the UK would regain its economic and political independence in full, and that the future relationship would need to reflect that reality.
“Discussions in some areas identified a degree of common understanding of the ground that future talks could cover.
“In other areas, notably fisheries, governance and dispute settlement, and the so-called ‘level playing field’, there were, as expected, significant differences.
“The next negotiating round will take place on 18-20 March in London.
“The UK expects to table a number of legal texts, including a draft FTA, beforehand.”
The tit-for-tat words came as Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell questioned if the current Brexit timetable was “realistic” given the outbreak of coronavirus on the continent.
He said: “Is there enough bandwidth within government to deal with this crisis as well as the crisis that we are facing in terms of climate change as well as the crisis in our public services and Brexit too?
“I think there needs to be a serious examination by government itself and proper consultation on a cross-party basis with our European partners whether the existing timetable is realistic. Let’s look again.”
The UK is due to exit the Brexit transition period on December 31 and become a fully independent nation on January 1.
Mr Johnson has said he is prepared to walk away from talks in June if significant progress on a trade agreement has not been made.
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