‘No real sign’ UK plans to succeed at Brexit trade talks

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 had decided Covid-19 was “going to be blamed for all the fallout” from Brexit, as he bemoaned the “very slow progress” in the negotiations.

He also warned change was required otherwise a combination of the coronavirus and Brexit would result in an “almighty blow to the UK economy later this year”, which will “spill over” to other countries, including Ireland.

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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”.

The Brexit transition period is due to finish at the end of 2020.

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 this year, 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.

EU commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan. Picture: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

“I hope I am wrong, but I don’t think so.”

Mr Hogan said the EU was “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 ... 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 11 May.”

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, the spokesman said.

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