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Brussels chief warns of 'consequences' if UK abandons EU rules

Yui Mok/PA Wire

By Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor

Britain cannot expect the "highest quality access" to EU markets if it abandons Brussels rules after Brexit, the president of the European Commission has warned.

Ursula von der Leyen said talks on a free trade deal after Britain leaves the EU at the end of January would be "tough", with both sides seeking to protect their own interests.

She said Boris Johnson's insistence that there could be no extension of the transition period beyond the end of 2020 meant there was a limit to what could be agreed before the UK's final break with the EU.

Speaking ahead of her first meeting with the Prime Minister since she took office last month, she said they would need to "prioritise" those areas where there were no international agreements to fall back on to avoid a damaging "hard Brexit".

Mr Johnson was expected to use their talks in Downing Street to underline his insistence that, while he wants an "ambitious" free trade deal, UK "alignment" with EU rules must finish at the end of the year.

Speaking at the London School of Economics, where she studied, Mrs von der Leyen said that would have "consequences" for the sort of agreement which could be reached.

While the EU was ready to sign up to an agreement based on "zero tariffs, zero quotas", there also had to be "zero dumping" of cheap exports on European markets.

"The European Union is ready to negotiate a truly ambitious and comprehensive new partnership with the United Kingdom. But the truth is that our partnership cannot and will not be the same as before," she said.

"With every decision comes a trade-off. Without the free movement of people, you cannot have the free movement of capital, goods and services.

"Without a level playing field on environment, labour, taxation and state aid, you cannot have the highest quality access to the world's largest single market."

Mrs von der Leyen said that, throughout the negotiations, the EU would be committed to upholding the integrity of the single market and the customs union.

"There can be no compromise on this. But we are ready to design a new partnership with zero tariffs, zero quotas, zero dumping. A partnership that goes well beyond trade and is unprecedented in scope," she said.

However she said the timetable set by Mr Johnson to get a trade deal agreed and ratified by the end of the year was "very, very tight".

"Without an extension of the transition period beyond 2020, you cannot expect to agree on every single aspect of our new partnership. We will have to prioritise," she said.

At the same time, she stressed the importance for both sides of building a "comprehensive security partnership" to counter cross-border threats from terrorism to cyber attacks.

"The threat of terrorism is real and we have to share the necessary information and intelligence between Europe and the UK to stop terrorists from crossing borders and attacking our way of life," she said.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, who will also take part in the talks along with the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said he was confident an agreement could be reached by the end of year.

"I think there is scope for a very positive and optimistic approach to the trade deal," he told Sky News.

"Both sides have committed to securing a trade deal by the end of December 2020. That is in the Political Declaration."

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