‘Barnier’s grasping!’ UK furious at EU’s claim Brexit move is fuelled by COVID failures

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The Brussels negotiator was said to have told European diplomats the health crisis may have contributed to Downing Street’s decision to rip up the withdrawal agreement. But UK sources close to the negotiations dismissed the claim, and claimed the Frenchman was playing fast and loose with the truth. One UK source said: “Our position has been clear since February. We’ve consistently said we want a deal like Canada and have said the same thing in the negotiating as outside.

“So this is really grasping and totally wide of the mark.”

It comes after top EU officials said they would be forced to walk away from the trade talks unless Boris Johnson scraps his latest plans.

The Government’s Internal Market Bill, which allows ministers to overrule EU customs checks and state aid rules for Northern Ireland, sparked fury in Brussels after its publication.

Despite the furious row over the legislation, Mr Barnier has revealed he is still optimistic a future relationship pact can be concluded before the end of the year.

The Frenchman and Lord Frost, the Prime Minister’s lead Brexit envoy, have agreed to keep talking amid the anger.

The wrangling over the free-trade agreement is still held up by the EU’s refusal to budge on its demand for continued access to Britain’s fishing waters and a regulatory playing field.

But Mr Barnier believes an agreement on both controversial topics can be reached.

Meanwhile, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen accused Boris Johnson of putting “trust and good faith” at risk with his plans to rip up the Withdrawal Agreement.

She said: “The European Union and United Kingdom jointly agreed it was the best, and only way, for ensuring peace on the island of Ireland.

“We will never backtrack on that. This agreement has been ratified by this house and the House of Commons. It cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded or disapplied. It is a matter of law, trust and good faith.”

In a move that could inflame tensions within the Conservative Party, Mrs von der Leyen quoted a 1975 speech by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The top eurocrat said: “Britain does not break treaties. it would be bad for Britain, bad for relations with the rest of the world and bad for any future treaty on trade we may need to make.”

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“It was true then and it is true today,” she added.

“Trust is the foundation of any strong relationship.”

Mrs von der Leyen declared the EU’s “affection for the British people will never fade” but warned the bitter wrangling over a post-Brexit deal has put talks in trouble.

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She said: “With every day that passes, the chances for a timely agreement do start to fade.

“Negotiations are always difficult and we are used to that.

“Talks have not progressed as we would have wished and leaves us with very little time.”

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