March 9, 2020 / 11:13 AM / a month ago

EU, Britain talk past each other as trade negotiations kick off

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain needs to think about what trade-offs it wants to accept in trade talks with the European Union, the bloc’s chief executive said on Monday, triggering a swift rebuttal from London.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks on the first 100 days of the EU Commission in Brussels, Belgium, March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Britain and the EU have started talks on their new relationship after Brexit. Brussels wants to keep Britain in close alignment with EU laws and rules, but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seeking a much looser relationship.

Johnson says he is ready, in the absence of a deal with the EU, to default to World Trade Organization rules, which include tariffs and quotas. He also refuses to negotiate an extensive defense and security treaty with the EU, saying Britain prefers to rely on NATO.

The EU aired frustration after a first round of talks last week, saying there were serious gaps, though it did not rule reaching an agreement by the end of 2020, when the current ‘status-quo’ transition period ends.

“We want to be very ambitious, we want to have a very good relationship with our British friends,” said the head of the EU’s executive Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

“It will be important that the United Kingdom makes up its mind. The closer they want to have the access to the single market, the more of course they have to play by the rules that are the rules of the single market,” she told a news conference.

“If this is not the UK’s choice, they will be more distant and it will be more difficult for the UK to access the single market. So it’s up to the United Kingdom within these negotiations to think about the trade-offs they want to take into account.”

But a spokesman for Johnson said Britain’s position was already unambiguously clear.

“The UK has made up its mind very decisively and has been very clear about what it wants from its future relationship with the EU,” he said.

“The UK’s position is the one which secured a significant majority for the prime minister in the December general election.”

Additional reporting by Marine Strauss and Elizabeth Piper, Editing by Peter Graff and Gareth Jones

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