Top EU minister blasts Boris Johnson’s ‘artificial’ threats over Brexit deadline

Brussels will not be pressurised by "artificial deadlines" in the post-Brexit trade talks between the EU and UK, France's Europe minister has warned.

French European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin has hit back at the UK's threats to walk away from a trade deal with the EU if there is not "good progress".

De Montchalin said the EU would not sign "any kind of a deal" at the end of the transition period in December – because substance is more important than deadlines.

She said on Friday the European Union would not accept "artificial deadlines" in talks on a future relationship with Britain.

"We do not accept time pressure," Montchalin told an audience at Chatham House. However she insisted it was possible to achieve a deal by the end of the year – as long as there is "consistency on the two sides."

Michael Gove told MPs on Thursday the government will walk away in June unless there is a "broad outline" of a deal.

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He said the UK wanted to strike a "comprehensive free trade agreement" in 10 months.

But the government would not accept any alignment with EU laws as the EU is demanding, with Mr Gove adding: "We will not trade away our sovereignty."

Today Ms de Montchalin explained: "We all know that if we feel the need, we have the legal capacity to extend which is why I called it artificial."

The EU has already set out its priorities ahead of the formal start of the talks on Monday.

And earlier this week the government published a 30-page document outlining its priorities for the talks.

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These include ruling out any role for the ECJ, refusing to accept any EU laws in the UK and aiming for a trading relationship with the EU similar to the ones the 27-nation bloc has with Canada, Japan and South Korea. 

In what is the EU's first public response to the UK's negotiating de Montchalin mocked the UK government's insistence on an Australian style deal.

"You are not Canada, you are certainly not Australia – first of all because we can come to you by train, you are the United Kingdom," she said in a well-timed speech on the “future of the UK-EU and UK-France relationships” at Chatham House.

She told the audience that the next phase marked a clear departure from the "political negotiations" of the withdrawal agreement but the next set of discussions are about "building a relationship".

"We are not building the relationship for politicians, we are building it for companies, business, fishermen, researchers, we are building it for people, real people. It is for them," she said.

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And she warned the UK not to underestimate the unity of the EU27 which had held firm in the first stage.

In a matter-of-fact way the French Europe Minister insisted that "Brexit has consequences, there is no such thing as Brexit only in name."

She added: "Our aim is, of course, not to punish or take any revenge on the UK."

But de Montchalin insisted: "Being sovereign means protecting our economies, our people, just as much as you do."

The UK's guidelines for the negotiations, which cover trade and other aspects of the future relationship with Brussels, set the deadline for progress against a backdrop of deep divisions between the two sides over issues including fish, state subsidies and standards.

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On the question of alignment of state aid, she said: "business will not invest in UK businesses if they are not protected by massive subsidies in the EU. It does not make sense. So this whole thing about reciprocity is important.

Ms de Montchalin also spoke of the importance of trust in the negotiations.

She said: "A swift negotiation could be impacted by a degrade in implementation of the former agreement which we just reached three months ago – the Withdrawal Agreement.

"Ensuring that our citizens are protected and are never bargaining chips in the future. Ensuring that the Northern Ireland protocol is fully implemented is for us an absolute priority."

However the French minister ended her speech on a friendly note calling for a new "entente cordiale" to face the shared challenges.

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