The European Union (EU) will not push for post-Brexit agreement with Britain “at all costs”, a senior German MEP has said.
David McAllister appeared to indicate that if there is not a prospect of an agreement being reached between the UK and the EU on their future relationship, then talks could be concluded.
He issued the warning as he said it was an “open secret” in Brussels than any request from the UK for the country’s current Brexit transition period to be extended would be agreed.
Mr McAllister, chair of the UK co-ordination group in the European Parliament, stressed to MSPs “we certainly need more time” for the talks to take place.
Giving evidence to Holyrood’s Europe Committee, the Christian Democrat MEP – who has a Scottish father – said: “It is an open secret that if the UK were to ask for an extension I don’t think the EU would say no, but we have to accept it takes two to tango.”
From a European perspective, he told MSPs it was “disappointing” that while three rounds of negotiations have taken place “no real progress has been achieved”.
He said: “We will not drive for an agreement to be done at all costs. We are making an offer and it is up to the UK to accept if they want this offer or not.
“If we are still at odds in the very vital issues then we need to … we will then have to think how we continue our negotiations in the second half.”
Committee convener Joan McAlpine said: “It is a bleak picture and it almost sounds as if an agreement can’t be reached we could see an end to negotiations in June, if the UK doesn’t ask for an extension.”
Mr McAllister told MSPs the current coronavirus pandemic is hindering talks as the lead negotiators on both sides cannot meet for talks.
He said: “Video conferences, as we are all experiencing these weeks, is the second best option, but when it comes to very sensitive issues, politically sensitive issues, what you don’t have at the moment is the chief negotiators could confidentially talk to each other behind closed doors. This option isn’t possible at the moment and this is an additional difficult point.”
He also stressed that with coronavirus leaving nations “facing the largest challenge since the Second World War, the largest economic crisis since the 1930s”, there would be “understanding” if the UK sought an an extension to the transition period – which is due to expire at end of December.
Without an extension, he said “the negotiations will have to be concluded by the beginning of November” – leaving only five-and-a-half months for a deal to be reached.
However, he said even with the maximum extension to the transition period, there would only be three years in total for an agreement to be reached in the “unprecedented” situation of a member state leaving European Union.
With the Scottish Government urging an extension, the MEP accepted he was “probably preaching to a majority of politicians in Scotland”.
He added: “It doesn’t matter, we can do what ever we want, our British dancing partner doesn’t want to dance the tango with us.”