February 28, 2020 / 11:42 AM / a month ago

"We do not accept time pressure" in UK talks, says French Europe minister

LONDON (Reuters) - French European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin said on Friday the European Union would not accept “artificial deadlines” in talks on a future relationship with Britain, urging London to be led by reason in the negotiations.

FILE PHOTO: French Junior Minister for European Affairs Amelie de Montchalin arrives at a General Affairs Councilc meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 25, 2020. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS

On Thursday, the British government said it would walk away from talks on future ties with the EU if “good progress” was not made in the negotiations by June, and underlined that its goal was to gain political and economic independence from the bloc.

Britain left the EU last month and the two sides have until the end of the year to negotiate a trade deal and agreements on everything from fishing to transport, to replace more than 40 years of closely aligned relations.

But before talks begin on Monday in Brussels, both sides are far apart, with Britain’s main demand for an off-the-peg free trade deal rejected by the EU, which says the two neighbours have a unique relationship that requires shared rules.

“We do not accept time pressure and we are not ready to sign any kind of a deal on 31st December at 11pm,” Montchalin told an audience at the Chatham House think-tank in London.

“We cannot let our level of ambition be affected by what I can call artificial deadlines. If the UK decides to shorten the negotiation 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.”

Both sides say they want a deal to be agreed before Dec. 31, 2020, a deadline Britain has said it is not willing to extend, and Montchalin said she believed that was possible if there was an understanding of what could be achieved in that time.

She appealed to London to apply “reason” to the talks, warning Britain not to try to pursue a strategy of divide and rule with the 27-member EU.

“You should not underestimate the unity of the 27,” she said. “To those who might think that the EU’s unity might falter in the next phase of talks, let me say you are in for the opposite.

“Our shared interest I think, from now on is not to show our muscles but is to work together, not with passion but with reason.”

Reporting by Kylie MacLellan, writing by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Stephen Addison

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