France warns UK that it will not be ‘blackmailed’ in Brexit talks

PUBLISHED: 10:55 24 February 2020 | UPDATED: 12:24 24 February 2020

French president Emmanuel Macron speaks to British prime minister Boris Johnson. Photograph: Neil Hall/PA.

French president Emmanuel Macron speaks to British prime minister Boris Johnson. Photograph: Neil Hall/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

France has warned the UK it will not be ‘blackmailed’ into accepting a ‘bad’ Brexit deal because of Boris Johnson’s deadline for the transition period.

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In a sign that the EU is prepared to take a tough line ahead of post-Brexit talks beginning, French Europe minister Amelie de Montchalin insisted that her country's farmers, fishermen and businesses would not pay the price for a trade deal to be in place by the end of the year.

She told TV station France 2: "In this negotiation it must be understood by British businesses that we do not want a bad agreement - almost certainly, that we will sign up to no blackmail."

Refusing to allow the UK to dictate the timetable, De Montchalin said: "It is not because that Boris Johnson wants a deal at all costs for December 31 that we will sign, under pressure, a bad deal."

In a further indication that access to UK fishing grounds will be one of the main flashpoints in the talks, the French minister said: "The fishermen have the right to be protected, they know very well that if we sign a bad deal they will lose enormously."

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Downing Street rejected the suggestion that the deadline for a trade deal was an attempt to "blackmail" the European Union into striking a deal at all costs by that date.

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "The UK's primary objective in the negotiations is to ensure that we restore our economic and political independence on January 1 2021."

Ministers are expected to commit to seeking to obtain a Canada-style agreement with zero tariffs in the negotiating mandate scheduled for publication on Thursday.

The government is expected to publish its negotiating mandate for a desired free trade agreement with the US the following week.

Environment secretary George Eustice drew criticism on Sunday after repeatedly refusing to rule out chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef being imported from the States in the deal.

Brexiteer Iain Duncan-Smith has meanwhile urged the government to seek the assistance of experts, warning that "there are problems ahead" for the UK during talks.

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