Brexit trade negotiations leave Germany furious as Merkel ally lashes out at UK tactics

Britain and the European Union began post-Brexit talks on a free trade agreement in March after the country’s departure from the bloc was finally made official on January 31. But negotiations have already got off to a turbulent start, with significant distance separating the two sides on several key areas. The UK has until June 30 to request an extension from the EU for thew transition period beyond December 31.

But despite the coronavirus pandemic sweeping throughout Europe, Boris Johnson still wants a full free trade agreement struck before that deadline.

He has even threatened to walk away from the negotiating table if sufficient progress has not been made over the coming weeks.

This stance has left the EU furious, with senior figureheads, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, openly critical of the UK negotiation strategy.

Germany is becoming increasingly fearful of a disastrous hard Brexit, and Foreign Minister Heiko Mass said without an agreement on the future relationship between the UK and EU, it would be a “journey into the unknown”.

He warned Britain cannot move from the terms agreed in the political declaration between the two sides last year.

Mr Mass told German regional newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine: “The British Government is still refusing to extend the deadline.

“If it stays that way, we will have to deal with Brexit in addition to corona at the end of the year.

“Without an agreement on our future relationship, it would be a journey into the unknown.

Germany’s Foreign Minister warned: “It is worrying that Britain is moving further away from our agreed political declaration on key issues in the negotiations.

“This cannot be, because the negotiations are a complete package, as it is laid out in the political declaration.

“We stick to this clear line: constructive, but also consistently.”

Germany has joined a host of EU member states ramping up the pressure on the UK and criticising it for insisting on sticking to such a tight timeline for a trade deal to be agreed within the current transition period.

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Last week, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney warned the coronavirus pandemic had made an already difficult timeline for the UK-EU trade deal “virtually impossible”.

He told an online conference today: “Given the complexity of what we’re trying to deal with here and the added complications, and there are many, as a result COVID-19, it surely makes sense for us to seek a bit more time.

“I think anybody looking at this from the outside could only conclude it makes sense to look for more time but I wouldn’t be raising expectations to the British Government agreeing to seek more time.

“COVID-19 has made what is already a very, very difficult timeline to get agreement virtually impossible.”

Despite the current coronavirus crisis engulfing the bloc, London and Brussels have been holding virtual meetings as they attempt to thrash out the finer details of a trade deal.

There have also been several video conference calls between Mr Barnier and the UK’s top Brexit negotiator David Frost.

There will be further rounds of online negotiations on May 11 and June 1, with a further high-level meeting expected next month to review the progress that has been made.

Mr Barnier has insisted the EU is ready to negotiate any request for a delay.

But Mr Frost has warned him Britain had “no intention” of requesting an extension beyond the deadline of end 2020.

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg.

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