Brexit: UK urges EU to 'recognise reality' within 'very limited time' as crunch talks commence

070920 Frost Barnier
Credit: PA

The UK is calling on the EU to recognise the reality of its Brexit stance within a "very limited" time frame or else it will walk away from talks, Britain's chief negotiator has said.

David Frost, ahead of the eighth round of Brexit talks, demanded "more realism" from Brussels, saying the two sides “can no longer afford to go over well-trodden ground”.

And with just five weeks before the deadline of October 15, Lord Frost said "it’s time for the EU to fully recognise" the "reality" of the UK's position.

“If they can’t do that in the very limited time, we have left then we will be trading on terms like those the EU has with Australia, and we are ramping up our preparations for the end of the year," he added.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said a deal is "still possible", but said the EU "now needs to stop being intransigent, show flexibility and realism, get that deal done".

If not, he said, "then we'll leave the transition period on the same terms as other developed countries like Australia have and that's still a good situation for the UK".

Ahead of the crunch talks, Boris Johnson told European leaders that progress must be made this week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We can’t be in the same position as we are now by the end of the upcoming negotiating round if we are going to reach an agreement in the time available.

“As the PM is setting out today, there needs to be an agreement by the time of the European Council on October 15 if it is going to be in force by the end of the year.

“Reaching a deal at the eleventh hour is not an option.”

The UK's chief negotiator Lord Frost reiterated that message before heading into talks in with his EU counterpart Michel Barnier, in London.

Lord Frost with his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier Credit: Dati Bendo/EU/PA

Number 10 has sought to increase pressure on Brussels in recent days.

Prime Minister Johnson set a five-week deadline for trade talks to succeed in time for the transition's end on December 31.

But new Brexit legislation has dismayed senior EU figures, throwing talks off course.

Officials are concerned the legislation could override key elements of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Lord Frost said: “Today, I will sit down with Michel Barnier and drive home our clear message that we must make progress this week if we are to reach an agreement in time.

“We have now been talking for six months and can no longer afford to go over well-trodden ground.

“We need to see more realism from the EU about our status as an independent country.”

He defended the UK’s position, saying it derives from the “fundamentals of being a sovereign state” and called for the EU to “fully recognise this reality”.

David Frost is the UK's chief Brexit negotiator. Credit: PA

“If they can’t do that in the very limited time, we have left then we will be trading on terms like those the EU has with Australia, and we are ramping up our preparations for the end of the year,” Lord Frost added.

Senior EU figures reacted angrily after it was reported the government was set to table new legislation which could override key elements of the Withdrawal Agreement that sealed the UK’s departure from the bloc in January.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the government was proposing “limited clarifications” to the law.

Saying it would only be to ensure ministers can preserve the gains of the Good Friday Agreement in the event of no deal.

The Internal Market Bill to be tabled on Wednesday will ensure goods from Northern Ireland continue to have unfettered access to the UK market while making clear EU state aid rules, which will continue to apply in Northern Ireland, will not apply in the rest of the UK.

Boris Johnson's victory speech on Election Night 2019 Credit: PA Images

In addition, an amendment to the Finance Bill will give ministers the power to designate which goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are considered “at risk” of entering the EU single market and are therefore liable to EU tariffs.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said discussions were continuing with the EU to resolve the outstanding issues relating to the Northern Ireland protocol - intended to ensure there is no return of a hard border with the Republic once the transition is over.

He said the legislative changes were a necessary “safety net” in the event that they were unable to come to an agreement.

But European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned there could be no backtracking by the UK on its previous commitments if it wanted to reach a free trade agreement.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel bump elbows. Credit: AP

“I trust the British Government to implement the Withdrawal Agreement, an obligation under international law and prerequisite for any future partnership,” she said.

“(The) protocol on Ireland-Northern Ireland is essential to protect peace and stability on the island and integrity of the single market.”

Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney warned that abandoning the agreement would be “a very unwise way to proceed”.

Mr Barnier said he would be seeking clarification about the UK’s plans.

He told French radio that honouring the Withdrawal Agreement was “a pre-condition for confidence between us because everything that has been signed in the past must be respected”.