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‘Zero tariffs, zero quotas’ — EU wants ‘unprecedented’ trade deal with UK

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday. Photo: AP Foto/Virginia Mayo

The EU wants to negotiate a post-Brexit partnership with the UK that “goes well beyond trade and is unprecedented in scope”, according to the president of the European Commission.

Speaking at the London School of Economics, Ursula von der Leyen warned, however, that the relationship “cannot and will not be as close as before”.

She also cautioned that, unless the post-Brexit transition period is extended beyond the end of 2020, both sides “cannot expect to agree on every aspect of our new partnership”.

“It is basically impossible to negotiate all,” she said.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has said that the 11-month transition period will not be extended under any circumstances, but some EU figures have suggested he will be forced to U-turn on that pledge due to the complexity of the negotiations.

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“We will have to prioritise,” she said. “We will work for solutions that uphold the integrity of the European Union, its single market, and its customs union. There can be no compromise on that.”

“But we are ready to design a new partnership — zero tariffs, zero quotas, zero dumping, a partnership that goes well beyond trade and is unprecedented in scope,” she said.

Von der Leyen said that the European Union was ready to work “day and night to get as much done within the timeframe”.

But every choice that the UK makes in the negotiations will have a consequence, Von der Leyen noted.

“Without the free movement of people, you cannot have the free movement of capital, goods, and service. 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,” she said.

“The more divergence, the more distance the partnership will be.”

The commission president said that 31 January, the UK’s last day in the bloc, will be a “tough and emotional day”.

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But she said that “when the sun rises again on 1 February, the UK and the European Union will still be the best of friends and partners”.

Von der Leyen said she had fallen in love with the UK when she studied for a year at the London School of Economics.

“My admiration for the United Kingdom remains as strong as it did back then,” she said.

The UK, she said, is “strong willed, open minded, big hearted, proud and patriotic, kind and generous in spirit, full of traditions”, but noted that it was also “full of contradictions”.

Von der Leyen, who took over as president of the commission in December, and Johnson will meet at Downing St later on Wednesday.