France warns Boris Johnson plan for Australia-style Brexit deal ‘for the birds’
A leading French politician has warned Boris Johnson his plan for an Australia-style relationship with the EU is “for the birds”.
The Government has said the UK will walk away from talks on a comprehensive free trade agreement in June if no progress is being made.
A 30-page document setting out ministers' objectives for the upcoming negotiations said the UK would then seek an arrangement like the one the EU has with Australia.
This would effectively mean a World Trade Organisation regime, with a series of side deals in specific areas.
But Amélie de Montchalin, France’s secretary of state for European affairs, said the remaining countries in the bloc will reject an "artificial deadline".
“Don’t underestimate the unity of the 27 members,” she said in a direct message to Mr Johnson.
Speaking at Chatham House in London, she said: "We did not accept cherry-picking from the UK in the first half of negotiations, we will not accept it now.”
The minister added that the EU will “not accept time pressure” and is “not ready to sign any kind of a deal on 31 December at 11pm”.
“We cannot let our level of ambition be affected by what I would call artificial deadlines,” she said.
“If the UK decides to shorten the negotiating period, it will be the UK’s responsibility.
“It will not be our choice on the European side, and that choice will have consequences in terms of the breadth and depth of the relationship we can build.”
She added: “For us substance is much, much more important than deadlines.”
And Ms de Montchalin repeated the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s claim that the UK cannot have a Canada-style trade deal because “the UK is not Canada”.
She said: “The UK is the ninth economic power on the planet. You’re much bigger, you’re much closer, you’re much more important.”
The minister also spoke of the importance of trust in the negotiations, telling the audience at the think tank: “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.”