Michel Barnier claimed Britain’s “proximity” to the continent meant the country needed stronger ties to the EU than the Prime Minister’s preferred zero-tariff plan. EU chiefs also signalled they will demand that the UK hands the Elgin Marbles back to Greece as part of a trade deal. Mr Barnier’s remarks raised the likelihood of deadlock when the two sides begin talks on a trade deal next month.
He claimed the bloc will stick to its previous offer of an “ambitious partnership” with the UK remaining tied into a swathe of Brussels regulations after the end of the Brexit transition at the end of the year.
“We have proposed a trade agreement that includes in particular fishing and includes a level playing field, with a country that has a very particular proximity – a unique territorial and economic closeness – which is why it can’t be compared to Canada or South Korea or Japan.”
“We remain ready to propose this partnership if the UK wants it,” the Brussels diplomat added.
In a swipe at the Prime Minister’s threat to walk away from talks if the bloc refuses a Canada-style deal, M Barnier also hit out at the “polemic” coming from the UK.
His blast came as an EU document showed his negotiating mandate was being expanded to “address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin.”
A diplomatic source claimed the clause was a reference to the ancient Greek statues in the British Museum, which were taken from the Parthenon in Athens in the 19th century and have long been demanded by successive Greek governments.
M Barnier’s dismissal of Mr Johnson’s request for a Canada style deal followed a speech by the head of Downing Street’s negotiating task force insisting the UK will not accept continuing Brussels rules and regulations after the end of the Brexit transition on December 31.
Senior civil servant David Frost rejected EU demands for a “level-playing field” of standards and regulations.
“We bring to the negotiations not some clever tactical positioning but the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country.
“It is central to our vision that we must have the ability to set laws that suit us – to claim the right that every other non-EU country in the world has,” Mr Frost said in a lecture at a university in Brussels.
“So to think that we might accept EU supervision on so-called level playing field issues simply fails to see the point of what we are doing.
“It isn’t a simple negotiating position which might move under pressure – it is the point of the whole project.
“That’s also why we will not extend the transition beyond the end of this year.
“At that point, we recover our political and economic independence in full – why would we want to postpone it?