Strasbourg: The head of the European Commission said Tuesday that Brussels could accept a clean break with Britain but urged London to instead seek a highly ambitious free trade deal.
Addressing the European Parliament, Ursula von der Leyen noted that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government had said it was happy to tade with europe under basic World Trade Organization terms.
But she warned that all trade agreements come with rules and that Europe would seek to defend its level playing field. “We still have our standards that have to be respected.”
Von der Leyen welcomed Johnson’s stated ambition to make Britain a “global champion of free trade.”
But she warned: “I was a little bit surprised to hear the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom speak about the Australian model.
“But the European Union does not have a trade agreement with Australia. We are currently trading on WTO terms.
“And if this is the British choice, well, we are fine with that without any question,” she continued.
“But in fact, we just are in the moment where we agreeing with Australia that we must end this situation and we are working on a trade deal with them.
“Of course the UK can decide to settle for less but I personally believe that we should be way more ambitious.”
Britain left the EU on January 31 after 47 years of membership.
It agreed with Brussels a stand-still transition period until December 31, 2020, to allow both sides to negotiate a new trading relationship.
The details are not yet agreed but London says it will be leaving the EU’s single market and customs union, which currently facilitate seamless cross-border trade.
“The government has confirmed plans to introduce import controls on EU goods at the border after the transition period ends on 31 December 2020,” a UK statement said Monday.
It was also important to “treat all partners equally as we begin to negotiate our own trading arrangements with countries around the world”, the statement said.
Britain is hoping to negotiate new trade deals with the United States, Japan, Australia and other nations alongside an agreement with the EU.