Britain is showing “no real sign” of approaching the Brexit trade talks “with a plan to succeed”, according to the EU’s trade commissioner.
Phil Hogan claimed Westminster has decided Covid-19 is “going to be blamed for all the fallout” from Brexit, as he bemoaned the “very slow progress” in the current negotiations.
He also warned change is required otherwise a combination of the coronavirus and Brexit will result in an “almighty blow to the UK economy later this year”, which will “spill over” to other countries – including Ireland.
Downing Street rejected Mr Hogan’s assessment, insisting the UK was approaching the talks “constructively” but the EU needed to understand it was dealing with an “independent state”.
Brussels and the UK are negotiating a fresh trade agreement via video-telephone conferencing, due to restrictions on movement imposed on both sides of the Channel to stem the spread of Covid-19.
But the UK Government has insisted the transition period will not be extended beyond 2020, despite officials in London and Brussels admitting there has been little progress in the two rounds of formal talks held so far.
Mr Hogan, speaking to RTE, said: “Despite the urgency and enormity of the negotiating challenge, I am afraid we are only making very slow progress in the Brexit negotiations.
“There is no real sign that our British friends are approaching the negotiations with a plan to succeed.
“I hope I am wrong, but I don’t think so.”
Mr Hogan said the UK needs to outline further details about what it wants to achieve, and the EU is “serious” about a deal.
He went on: “I think that the United Kingdom politicians and Government have certainly decided that Covid is going to be blamed for all the fallout from Brexit… and my perception of it is they don’t want to drag the negotiations out into 2021 because they can effectively blame Covid for everything.”
In response to Mr Hogan’s claims, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I don’t accept that at all.
“We look forward to negotiating constructively in the next round beginning on May 11.
“We are ready to keep talking with the EU but that will not make us any more likely to agree to the EU’s proposals in certain areas which are unprecedented and do not take account of the fact that we have left the EU as an independent state.
“We will continue to negotiate constructively to find a balanced solution which reflects the political realities on both sides.”
Stumbling blocks include “level playing field” provisions on issues including subsidies and standards “which they do not require of other independent nations”, such as Canada and on fishing, where the EU’s stance “takes no account of the fact that we will become an independent coastal state”, the spokesman said.