After a groundbreaking week that saw Prime Minister Theresa May strike a deal with the European Union that will allow Brexit talks to move forward on to future trade relations, EU officials insisted a bespoke deal more favourable to the UK than other non-EU countries was out of the question.
One EU source close to the talks warned that the bloc “can’t upset relations with other countries” in order to make concessions with the UK and finalise a deal which it chooses.
He told the Observer: “We have been approached by a number of [non-member] countries expressing concerns and making it clear that it would constitute a major problem for them if suddenly the UK were able to get better terms than they get.”
The official said that once the UK is out of the single market and customs union in March 2019, there could be no replication of the terms of the current trading relationship, or anything close to it, and no special treatment.
He said: “It is not just an indication of some strange rigid principle. It is because things won’t work.
“First and foremost we need to stick to this balance of rights and obligations, otherwise we will be undermining our own customs union and single market. Second, we cannot upset relations with other third counties.
“If we were to give the UK a very lopsided deal, then the other partners with whom we have been engaging and who entered into balanced agreements would come back and question those agreements.”
Crucial talks are set to start on Britain’s future relationship with the EU later this week.
Theresa May had hoped to sign off the Phase One deal on Monday, but a last minute intervention from the DUP in Northern Ireland saw British and European negotiators go back to the drawing board to finally sign off the document on Friday after talks which went on through the night.
The 15-page agreement – which satisfied the condition of “sufficient progress” being made on citizens rights, Northern Ireland and the financial settlement – entrenched Mrs May’s caveat that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
The agreement also means Britain can withdraw its offer of paying up to £39billion to the EU if no deal is reached.
European Council president Mr Tusk has warned that the trade talks will be even harder than phase one.
He said: “We all know that breaking up is hard but breaking up and building a new relationship is much harder.”
Earlier today Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith said European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and his EU cronies will only “get into action for the first time in months” when it realised Britain could walk away with no deal.
Speaking on the Today programme, he said: “They got into action for the first time for many months. The EU recognises that they really do need and want a free trade arrangement with the UK. And they were prepared to do what was necessary to get it.
“That’s interesting to us going forward. We can make that deal.”