The European Union says that Britain’s Withdrawal Agreement “must be respected” even if trade talks fail, as concerns mount that time is running out to reach a consensus on a Brexit deal.
The increasingly tense rhetoric from European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic comes as both sides rush to find a solution before they hit the fast-approaching December 31st deadline when the transition period ends.
Sefcovic reaffirmed that the EU is committed to reaching a trade deal, as well as agreements on other elements of the pair’s future relationship. However, he stressed that “this needs hard work,” as key issues, such as the implementation of tariffs and fisheries, have left them far apart.
The EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier issued a similar statement shortly after Sefcovic. He said even if an agreement is possible, “time is short,” putting further pressure on both sides to find some common ground to break the loggerhead.
Restating the position held at last week’s EU summit, Sefcovic reminded the UK that, while they accept the importance of finding a compromise, they will not be willing to agree to something “at any price.”
The British government has repeatedly threatened to renege on parts of the Withdrawal Agreement by passing the Internal Market Bill through the Houses of Parliament. While the House of Lords temporarily delayed its passage, rejecting the bill and delivering the heaviest defeat for a government for more than 20 years, London has remained committed to implementing the bill as a fallback option in the event that trade talks collapse. Justice Secretary Robert Buckland sought to reassure the EU that the Internal Market Bill is simply a last resort and he does “not believe we will get to that stage.”
The news comes as European Council President Charles Michel warned the UK that it “has a bit of a decision to make” that will determine what barriers the nation will have to overcome to access the EU’s internal market.
Michel’s comments highlight the divide between the EU and the UK over Britain’s desire to regain sovereignty while retaining access to the single market and customs union.
The UK government has not yet responded to the latest comments from the European Union.
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