EU chief threatens to derail Brexit talks with thinly veiled threat to Britain

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The European Union’s most senior official insisted the UK must choose between the bloc’s standards or face losing access to its markets. His bizarre rant came after a cordial meeting between Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove to end recent rows over Britain’s EU divorce. Speaking at a Brussels think-tank, Mr Michel claimed Boris Johnson faces the EU’s “quiet strength” to maintain the bloc’s standards for food safety, animal health and environmental standards.

The Council President said: “In the aftermath of the referendum, the result shook the European Union. This choice of national sovereignty was felt as a failure of the European construction.

“Today what is it? Is it the United Kingdom that faces our quiet strength.

“The truth is, the British face a dilemma. What model of society do they want? Do they prefer to maintain high quality standards? Or, on the contrary, do they want lower standards, subject their breeders and their competitors to unfair and unjust competition from other regions of the world?

“It is the answer to this question that will determine the level of access to our internal market.”

The ninth formal round of UK-EU trade talks start tomorrow with Lord Frost set to meet Michel Barnier in Brussels.

Hopes for a deal are increasing on both sides of the Channel and the two negotiators are expected to finally break the deadlock ahead of the October 15 deadline for a trade deal to be reached.

Mr Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has been given the go-ahead to continue negotiations despite a threat by the bloc to walk away unless the Government drops plans to tear up parts of last year’s Brexit divorce deal.

The EU vowed to work until the end of the transition period to find solutions to protect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK.

After meeting with Mr Gove, a top eurocrat admitted the deadline to withdraw the UK’s Internal Market Bill he set Downing Street would pass without any action.

Mr Sefcovic said: “I think it’s very important to say, to underline, that it could never be the EU which would call the end of the negotiations on the future partnership between the EU and UK.”

He pledged to use the remaining time before the end of Britain’s transition from EU rules to end the row over the divorce pact.

The EU official said he hoped answers to Britain’s concerns over the Northern Ireland border fix could be found through the future relationship talks.

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“We know there is a huge responsible upon our shoulders, and we will use every opportunity, every minute, out of negotiating time, not only to agree and fine an ambitious agreement for the partnership between the EU and the UK, but also properly and timely implement the Withdrawal Agreement,” Mr Sefcovic said.

But the Commission vice-president insisted the bloc would “not be shy in using” legal action unless the legislation is amended by the end of the year.

He added: “When we will do it, how we will do it – proceed, you will have to give us a little bit of time and we will inform you.”

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Gove insisted Brussels should not be worried about the Government’s Brexit Bill.

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The Cabinet Office minister also vowed to use “every second, every minute, every hour” to find a compromise with the bloc to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.

He said: “We are committed to using every moment available – every second, every minute, every hour – in order to reach an agreement, and I am confident that we will.”

He added: “There have been those in the European Union who have been concerned about the clauses that we have put into the UK Internal Market Bill, but I was able to stress today – as I have in the House of Commons – that these clauses are a safety net.

“We want to reach agreement in the Joint Committee, we want to make sure that the position of Northern Ireland is secure in the United Kingdom, we want to ensure the Withdrawal Agreement is implemented in full. But those clauses are there, they are in legislation, supported by the House of Commons, as a safety net, if need be, and those clauses will remain in that bill.”

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