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Brexit talks turn sour as EU, UK clash

Britain and Brussels clashed Tuesday over upcoming Brexit talks, with London roundly rejecting key elements of the EU’s negotiating platform, setting up an acrimonious start to negotiations next week.
The EU’s chief negotiator warned the bloc would not abandon its principles to get a deal and took aim at a British minister as tensions between the two sides ramped up.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman fired back, saying Britain would not cave to Brussels’ demands for access to fishing waters or its insistence that British companies stick to EU standards on goods.
“We will not conclude an agreement at any price,” Barnier told reporters after EU ministers approved his negotiating mandate, warning that negotiations would be “difficult, perhaps even very difficult”.
The talks are to begin in Brussels on Monday in an increasingly poisonous atmosphere, with the clock ticking down to a December 31 deadline to reach a deal. Johnson has ruled out seeking any extension.
Britain left the EU at the end of January under the withdrawal agreement struck in late 2019, and will be regarded as a non-EU “third country” in the negotiations even though it still trades like an EU member until the end of December, when its transition period out of the bloc ends.
Without an accord on the new relationship, trade between the EU and Britain would revert to a bare-bones arrangement under WTO rules, causing economic pain on both sides, but especially in the UK.
Barnier’s mandate emphasises that Britain has to mirror European standards if it wants its goods to continue to have tariff-free access to the huge single market, saying that any deal struck with the UK must include “robust commitments” to uphold norms.
Brussels fears that without these so-called “level playing field” guarantees, the UK might seek a competitive edge over Europe by undercutting its tax, environmental and labour standards.
But Downing Street rejected this in a series of tweets sent while Barnier was still on his feet in the press conference, saying the EU had offered the US zero tariffs “without the kind of level playing field commitments” seen in Tuesday’s mandate.