France has warned the UK that it will not be “blackmailed” into accepting a “bad” post-Brexit trade deal because of Boris Johnson’s December 31 deadline.
Ministers from the 27 remaining European Union members will meet in Brussels on Tuesday to agree the negotiating mandate for the talks on the UK’s future relationship with the bloc.
Downing Street insisted the deadline would remain so that “we restore our economic and political independence on January 1”.
In a sign that the EU is prepared to take a tough line, French Europe minister Amelie de Montchalin insisted that her country’s farmers, fishermen and businesses would not pay the price for a trade deal to be in place by the end of the year.
She told TV station France 2: “In this negotiation it must be understood by British businesses that we do not want a bad agreement – almost certainly, that we will sign up to no blackmail.”
The Prime Minister has ruled out extending the transition period beyond December 31, meaning the UK will do business with the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms on January 1 2021 unless an agreement with Brussels is in place.
Refusing to allow the UK to dictate the timetable, Ms de Montchalin said: “It is not because that Boris Johnson wants a deal at all costs for December 31 that we will sign, under pressure, a bad deal.”
In a further indication that access to UK fishing grounds will be one of the main flashpoints in the talks, the French minister said: “The fishermen have the right to be protected, they know very well that if we sign a bad deal they will lose enormously.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The UK’s primary objective in the negotiations is to ensure that we restore our economic and political independence on January 1 2021.”
Businesses have urged Mr Johnson to drive down post-Brexit red tape in a trade deal with the EU as the UK prepares to sign off on its own negotiating demands.
A Confederation of British Industry (CBI) report on Monday called on the Prime Minister to ensure a deal with Brussels minimises bureaucracy to ensure a strong economy.
Ministers are expected to commit to seeking to obtain a Canada-style agreement with zero tariffs in the negotiating mandate scheduled for publication on Thursday.
But this could set up a clash with the EU after its chief negotiator Michel Barnier ruled out the possibility the UK can have the same deal as the North American nation.
CBI director-general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said: “With talks now in touching distance, the CBI has asked employers across the country what practical outcomes they need from the future EU relationship so they can concentrate on what they do best: investing, innovating, creating jobs and supporting a strong economy.
“The message is clear: keep trade easy and minimise red tape. For this reason, British firms back many of the Government’s objectives set out in the negotiating mandate, such as on zero tariffs and data.”
The Government is expected to publish its negotiating mandate for a desired free trade agreement with the US the following week.
Environment Secretary George Eustice drew criticism on Sunday after repeatedly refusing to rule out chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef being imported from the States in the deal.
The Brexit inner cabinet will meet on Tuesday to sign off on the UK’s mandate before it is published online and laid in Parliament on Thursday.
The PM’s Europe adviser David Frost and his team will then head to Brussels for the first round of negotiations on March 2.
Downing Street insiders have accused the EU of being “hamstrung by indecision and delay due to the competing interests of different member states” ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.