EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan accused the Prime Minister of apparently lacking a plan for thrashing out a trade deal with the bloc. He also complained about the “very slow progress” in the current negotiations and suggested the UK Government was preparing to blame the coronavirus outbreak for any failure to conclude a deal. The latest round of video conferencing talks about Britain’s future relationship with the EU broke up last month with both sides admitting major differences remain over a string of issues.
Mr Hogan hit out at the UK in an interview with the Irish broadcasting network RTE yesterday.
He also warned change is required otherwise a combination of the coronavirus and Brexit will result in an “almighty blow to the UK economy later this year”, which will “spill over” to other countries – including Ireland.
“Despite the urgency and enormity of the negotiating challenge, I am afraid we are only making very slow progress in the Brexit negotiations.
“There is no real sign that our British friends are approaching the negotiations with a plan to succeed.
“I hope I am wrong, but I don’t think so,” he said.
Mr Hogan said the UK needs to outline further details about what it wants to achieve, and the EU is “serious” about a deal.
He added: “I think that the United Kingdom politicians and Government have certainly decided that Covid is going to be blamed for all the fallout from Brexit… and my perception of it is they don’t want to drag the negotiations out into 2021 because they can effectively blame Covid for everything.”
In response to Mr Hogan’s claims, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I don’t accept that at all.
“We look forward to negotiating constructively in the next round beginning on May 11.
“We are ready to keep talking with the EU but that will not make us any more likely to agree to the EU’s proposals in certain areas which are unprecedented and do not take account of the fact that we have left the EU as an independent state.
“We will continue to negotiate constructively to find a balanced solution which reflects the political realities on both sides.”
Stumbling blocks include “level playing field” provisions on issues including subsidies and standards “which they do not require of other independent nations”, such as Canada and on fishing, where the EU’s stance “takes no account of the fact that we will become an independent coastal state”, the spokesman said.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said: “The reason why the UK-EU trade negotiations are at a stalemate is because the EU is making unreasonable demands on the UK.
“The EU wants a so-called ‘level-playing field’ on regulation, which is code for the UK accepting all current and future EU rules verbatim, and also wants free access to our fishing waters in perpetuity.
“These are demands that no independent, sovereign state could agree to. And the EU has never made demands like this on other countries that it has a trade deal with.”
Mr Bridgen also hit out at calls for an extension to the transition period, which is due to end on December 30, made by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and other opposition figures.
“If the deadline is extended, the EU will have no incentive to come to an agreement and will continue to make unreasonable demands. An extension would just land the UK with another multi-billion pound Brussels bill.”