The European Union’s demand for the UK to “make up its mind” on the kind of post-Brexit deal it wants was dismissed by Downing Street.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen made the call as she marked 100 days in office but the UK insisted it had fully set out its position in the trade talks and Michael Gove urged Brussels to “reflect that reality”.
The UK is expected to table a legal text setting out the kind of free trade agreement (FTA) it wants before the next round of talks on March 18.
Ms von der Leyen acknowledged there were “differences in the approach” between the two sides following the first round of negotiations.
The UK has set out its aim for a FTA along the lines of the one the EU has with Canada, but Brussels has called for a closer relationship including a “level playing field” for areas including workers’ rights, environmental protections and state subsidies to ensure fair competition between the neighbouring economies.
The commission president said “we know what each side is standing for” but later claimed that the UK needed to think about the economic trade-offs it was willing to accept if it breaks away from EU rules.
Her comments frustrated the UK side, which believes it has been clear about the more limited arrangement it is seeking from the EU in the negotiations.
Boris Johnson’s blueprint for the negotiations indicates the UK could walk away unless the “broad outline” of a deal is clear by the end of June.
Asked whether there would be a “landing zone” for a deal in June, the commission president told reporters in Brussels: “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.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman 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 UK’s position is the one which secured a significant majority for the Prime Minister in the December general election.”
Updating MPs on the first round of talks, Cabinet Office minister Mr Gove 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.”
Before the next round of talks, the UK expects to table “a number of legal texts, including a draft FTA”, Mr Gove said.