EU to UK: stop playing ‘games’ with Brexit trade talks

BRUSSELS — The European Union is pleading with Britain to stop playing “games” as time is running out to clinch a free trade deal during the next month.

The sides committed to a new meeting to discuss Britain’s plans to disregard part of the withdrawal agreement it had signed with the 27-nation EU amid acrimony that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson would even contemplate to break an agreement he himself signed.

EU countries’ ministers for European affairs met in Brussels and German chairman Michael Roth said the British plan was “extremely” worrisome since it “violates the guiding principle of the withdrawal agreement,” which officially allowed the United Kingdom to leave the bloc last Jan. 31.

A transition period now runs until Dec 31, during which time both sides are negotiating a trade agreement to replace the open and unfettered economic relations that are in place. The EU has repeatedly expressed its exasperation at what it sees as British stubbornness and refusal to compromise on some key points.

Without a deal on future trade relations, chaos is expected at the borders on Jan. 1. Companies on both sides are set to lose massive amounts of money as new red tape and tariffs will fundamentally change business practices.

Johnson’s proposed a bill earlier this month that would disregard part of the withdrawal treaty dealing with trade between Ireland and the United Kingdom only added to the frustration.

“Dear friends in London: Stop the games. Time is running out,” said Roth ahead of the meeting. “What we really need is a fair basis for negotiations.”

Johnson is pushing ahead with plans to pass the bill into law in the coming weeks, though it has met with opposition from some lawmakers in his Conservative Party.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday accused Johnson of acting “recklessly and irresponsibly, with no thought for the long-term impact on the standing of the United Kingdom in the world.”

The EU has given Johnson until the end of the month to withdraw his bill or face EU action. That would further escalate tensions and dim any remaining hope of getting a trade deal ahead of Oct. 15, which Johnson himself has set as a deadline.

The EU has not explicitly said what action it would take but EU Vice President Maros Sefcovic indicated it would stay within the rules of dispute settlement set out in the withdrawal agreement.

“I would like to underscore that the EU believes in calm, constructive cooperation through the channels created by the withdrawal agreement,” Sefcovic said. He added he would meet with his U.K. counterpart, Michael Gove, on Monday.