Nigel Farage today accused the EU of trying to take advantage of the mutant coronavirus crisis to force the UK to sign a ‘bad’ post-Brexit trade deal.
The leader of the Brexit Party said Britain is ‘dealing with thugs and bullies’ after France suspended all traffic from the UK for 48 hours in a move which threatens to severely disrupt trade flows.
He suggested the move was a negotiating tactic to make the UK buckle and give into Brussels’ trade demands as he said it is ‘time to walk away’ from talks.
The timing of the ports shutdown could not be worse for the Government because it comes less than two weeks before the end of the ‘standstill’ transition period and just days before Christmas.
Brexit trade talks between the two sides remain ongoing but should they fail to strike an accord the UK and the EU will trade on basic World Trade Organisation terms from January 1, with tariffs imposed on goods and border chaos widely expected.
Mr Farage’s bombshell claims came after Nicola Sturgeon demanded Downing Street seek an extension to the transition period.
The Scottish First Minister said it is ‘imperative’ that Boris Johnson tries to push back the negotiating deadline beyond December 31 after the discovery of the faster-spreading variant of the disease.
Nigel Farage has accused the EU of trying to take advantage of the mutant coronavirus crisis to force the UK to sign a ‘bad’ post-Brexit trade deal
Scotland’s First Minister said the UK faces a ‘profoundly serious situation’ because of the virus mutation and warned it would be ‘unconscionable’ to leave the European Union at the end of the year as she called for the transition period to be extended
Mr Johnson is holding an emergency Cobra committee meeting this morning after France banned lorries carrying freight from the UK and countries around the world ended flights amid fears over the new mutant strain.
France has said the ban on all traffic from the UK will last for an initial period of 48 hours as Paris assesses the risk posed by the variant.
Hauliers coming to Britain from France will still be allowed in but there are fears that lorry drivers will not travel to avoid being ‘marooned’ in the UK.
Mr Farage claimed the border shutdown was an attempt to make the UK cave in during Brexit talks which remain deadlocked on the crunch issues of fishing rights and the so-called ‘level playing field’ on rules.
He tweeted: ‘We are dealing with thugs and bullies who want to make us sign a bad deal. Time to walk away, to hell with the EU.’
He later told Politico: ‘If this is the heavy hand of EU negotiation the time has come to say go to hell.’
On the other side of the political divide, Ms Sturgeon called on Mr Johnson to negotiate an extension to the transition period.
She said the UK faces a ‘profoundly serious situation’ because of the virus mutation and warned it would be ‘unconscionable’ to leave the EU at the end of the year without agreeing trade terms.
She wrote on Twitter: ‘It’s now imperative that PM seeks an agreement to extend the Brexit transition period.
‘The new Covid strain – & the various implications of it – means we face a profoundly serious situation, & it demands our 100% attention.
‘It would be unconscionable to compound it with Brexit.’
The European Parliament had set a deadline of last night for the UK and the EU to agree a trade deal but there was no breakthrough.
MEPs said that if a deal is agreed beyond that point they will not have enough time to properly scrutinise and vote on it.
David McAllister, the European Parliament’s lead representative on Brexit, said last night that the failure to hit the deadline means there will not be a trade deal in place in time for December 31.
He warned that MEPs ‘will not be in a position to grant consent to an agreement this year’.
However, should the European Parliament stick to its guns and refuse to ratify a deal it is thought EU member states could seek to sideline MEPs.
On Sunday Britain reported a further 35,928 coronavirus cases as the mutant Covid strain sparked a 94.8 per cent rise in infections
David McAllister warned last night that MEPs ‘will not be in a position to grant consent to an agreement this year’ because the European Parliament’s deadline for a deal of midnight on Sunday had not been met
European capitals could ‘provisionally apply’ the terms of a trade deal in time for January 1 and then ask MEPs to formally ratify it in January.
While technically possible it is thought such an approach could cause significant legal issues for both sides.
The UK and the EU are committed to the talks continuing, with a senior EU diplomat telling The Telegraph: ‘December 31 is the only final deadline.’
A senior UK government source said last night: ‘Teams have been negotiating throughout the day and expect to continue tomorrow.
‘Talks remain difficult and significant differences remain. We continue to explore every route to a deal that is in line with the fundamental principles we brought into the negotiations.’
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said negotiations are at a ‘crucial moment’ and insisted Brussels ‘remains committed to a fair, reciprocal and balanced agreement’.
But he warned: ‘We respect the sovereignty of the UK. And we expect the same.’
Mr Barnier said both the EU and the UK ‘must have the right to set their own laws and control their own waters’ under the terms of any accord as he stressed ‘we should both be able to act when our interests are at stake’.
His comments came after Health Secretary Matt Hancock fired a broadside at Brussels as he said the EU will have to ‘make the move’ and withdraw its ‘unreasonable demands’ if a deal is to be agreed.
Fishing is now viewed as the biggest stumbling block to a deal with the two sides unable to agree how the resources in UK waters should be split.
The EU is said to have offered an eight year transition to new arrangements and to give back 22 per cent of its current fishing quota.
But the UK has offered a three year ‘glide path’ and wants the EU to hand back 50 per cent of its quota.
European fishermen are increasingly concerned that they are about to be ‘sold down the river’ by Mr Barnier.