Boris Johnson’s pledge to walk away from EU trade talks if there is no deal by the end of the year has been criticised by a senior French minister.
That would see big taxes slapped on products exported by businesses to EU countries.
But trying to pile pressure on the prime minister ahead of negotiations officially kick-starting next week, the French minister for Europe, Amelie de Montchalin, called the 10-month timeframe an “artificial deadline”.
Ms de Montchalin said “we do not accept time pressure” and warned Downing Street not to “underestimate the unity” of the EU27 leaders.
She also took on Mr Johnson’s demands for either a Canada-style deal or agreement to trade with Brussels on WTO terms similar to those of Australia’s.
Britain is not Canada and certainly not Australia, she said, claiming a trade deal with the latter “doesn’t exist” and was “for the birds”.
She tried to cut off UK red lines which reject following EU rules on standards known as a “level playing field”.
“We do not accept cherry picking,” Ms de Montchalin told an audience at the Chatham House think-tank on Friday.
And she added: “We decide how we want to trade with third countries.”
David Frost, the PM’s chief Europe adviser, said last week signing up to alignment on standards would defeat the point of Brexit.
He confirmed Mr Johnson wanted one of two types of trade arrangement to kick in from next January, but was prepared to walk away with none.
The first is a Canada-style trade deal which eliminates most import taxes and quotas on the amount of a product that can be shipped without extra charges but does little for trade in services.
The second is an arrangement to trade with the EU similar to how Australia does – mostly on WTO terms with a few barriers reduced – while it tries to agree a proper trade deal.
Mr Johnson confirmed on Thursday he is prepared to walk away from the talks if not enough progress has been made by June.
That is the deadline for when any extension to the “transition period” due to end on 31 December 2020 falls, although the PM has already ruled out requesting one.
Analysis: Don’t take the trash talking too literally – the real battle hasn’t begun
By Rob Powell, political correspondent
In the week the UK and EU both published their positions for the next stage of the Brexit talks, pre-negotiation chest beating has hit King Kong-like levels.
Both parties have adopted consciously inflexible positions that have in-built ironies and holes that will be seized on by those sat on the other side of the table.
On fishing, eyebrows may be raised at EU demands for access to waters given the UK has now left the bloc.
French Europe minister Amelie de Montchalin was also clear today that demands for common “level playing field” commitments were about protecting EU economies from a close competitor like the UK, rather than any ideological red lines.
That’s why – despite signing up to the commitments last year – Boris Johnson sees some room for manoeuvre.
But whatever the prime minister says, if there is to be a deal both sides will make concessions.
So don’t take the current cross-channel trash talking too literally.
The real battle hasn’t even yet begun.