The European Union’s trade commissioner has questioned whether the UK really wants a Brexit deal, and accused the government of a lack of ambition after negotiations collapsed last week.
Phil Hogan claimed that progress towards a deal has been stymied by British ambivalence – adding that an agreement is not yet out of reach.
Despite the turmoil caused by the coronavirus crisis, the government has ruled out extending the transition period beyond 31 December to provide more time to reach a deal on Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU.
“I don’t see the same ambition from UK”
Speaking to Irish broadcaster RTÉ, Hogan said: “I still believe there will be a deal. The ambition of that deal on the European Union side is real.
“I don’t see the same ambition at the moment on the UK’s side. The ball is in the UK’s court, if they want a deal, there is a deal to be done
“Very little has happened in the last few months and there’s a frustration on the EU side about the fact that the good faith in terms of the negotiations that’s required on both sides is not happening to the extent that it should.
“Not any old deal will do.”
Level playing field
Hogan said that significant divisions remain over key issues like fisheries, a so-called regulatory ‘level playing field’ and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice – issues that Boris Johnson has said are red lines.
He added: “Boris Johnson has explicitly stated that he wants a deal, so we need to see movement on the UK side soon – or else it’s going to be too late.”
Hogan’s intervention comes amid a storm over Britain’s desire for a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.
Earlier this week the Leave Alliance, a staunchly pro-Brexit campaign group, said that it was “highly sceptical of Brexit and the mess it will surely be”, before pointing claiming that Remainers “own this mess as much as the Tories”.
Writing on Twitter the group, which has a relatively small following on social media, said that a “serious examination” of Brexit trade negations reveals that the UK “was never sincere about a deal and we’re just going through the motions to pretend we tried”.
The Leave Alliance, which is run by Brexiteer activist Pete North, added that a trade deal of with the US “won’t be comprehensive by contrast with the Single Market” and would be unlikely to pass in Congress.
Pointing the finger at “headbangers” in the Conservative Party who have been agitating for No Deal, the group said that falling out of the EU on World Trade Organisation terms in January would expose Britain’s customs system as “dysfunctional” and “completely unprepared for the task”.
Johnson has continually refused to rule out leaving the EU on WTO terms at the end of the transition period – with critics suggesting that the prime minister intends to use the threat of No Deal as leverage in talks with Brussels.
Last year Johnson – along with now-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – was among a group of former Conservative ministers that urged Tory MPs to reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal and leave the EU without a deal.
When pressed on his desire for a deal, Johnson has repeatedly claimed that it is his intention to secure an agreement before the end of the transition period.