Monday 24 February 2020 10:23 am

French minister warns against London 'blackmail' as second stage of Brexit talks near

France will not be “blackmailed” into a rushed trade deal between the UK and EU, an Elysee minister has warned, as Brussels prepares to publish its negotiating mandate for the next stage of Brexit talks.

Amélie de Montchalin, France’s secretary of state for European affairs, told France24 this morning she would be bringing a “clear Brexit message” to London this week.

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“Just because Boris Johnson wants a deal at all costs on December 31 does not mean that we will sign under the pressure of blackmail or the calendar a bad deal for the French,” she told the broadcaster.

Paris would not “sacrifice our farmers, fishermen, businesses” to secure a deal before the deadline.

It comes as the two sides prepare to return to the negotiating table for trade talks, with the EU’s mandate expected to be published tomorrow – several days later than expected.

The clock is ticking: Number 10 has repeatedly said any deal must be agreed this year, ruling out extending the transition period beyond December.

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One of the key sticking points is the so-called ‘level-playing field’, with the EU expected to push for competition, state aid, labour laws and environmental standards to be maintained.

France is said to be among those countries eager to press the case for dynamic alignment, meaning the UK would have to change regulations whenever the EU did.

However a draft version of the mandate circulating last week suggested the tone had been lightened to only include a commitment to upholding “common high standards, and corresponding high standards over time”.

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Another issue, which was kicked into the long grass when Brussels and London were trying to put together the Withdrawal Agreement last year, will also resurface in the form of Ireland.

Officials have been ordered to come up with plans to “get around” the Northern Ireland protocol in the withdrawal agreement, which includes checks on goods and food going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, the Sunday Times reported yesterday.

The team are looking at alternatives “so the Prime Minister can play hardball with Brussels over trade”. According to the story, Suella Braverman was brought in to replace Geoffrey Cox as attorney general because he was not willing to take such action.

Main image: Getty

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