Brexit shock: Downing Street hits back at ‘ludicrous’ Brussels threat on food exports

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Mr Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, hinted on Thursday Brussels could block the UK from exporting its agriculture and food to the bloc. It comes after the Prime Minister’s proposed changes to the Withdrawal Agreement have been blasted by the EU.

Mr Barnier said on Thursday Brussels may refuse to add the UK to a list of countries allowed to export to the EU over fears its food standards will not align.

Government sources told the Daily Telegraph on Friday Mr Barnier’s comments were “explicit” threats to the UK.

The sources claimed the public comments were “utterly ludicrous” and warned they would have serious impact future relations between the UK and EU.

Ministers are understood to be making contingency plans should the EU block the UK from exporting its food to the bloc.

The government sources also pointed out Northern Ireland remains beholden to EU food regulations under the current version of the Withdrawal Agreement.

They suggested to the Daily Telegraph this could lead to complications for goods heading to mainland Britain in the event of a no deal Brexit.

A Whitehall source added: “It’s totally ludicrous that they would consider not granting us this.

“We are starting from a place of alignment because our food standards are the same as theirs.

“It would be extraordinary to withhold something like this. It’s a tool of leverage basically.”

Another government source added food exports between the UK and EU is the “absolute basis for a relationship”.

They also said: “It is a license to export and entirely separate from the issue of food standards.

“It would be very unusual for the EU to go down this route and deny the UK listing.”

The UK is currently aligned with all EU food standards, and Downing Street has always expected to be granted “third party” status for exports because of this.

Mr Barnier stated on Thursday the EU has “many uncertainties” about Britain’s plans for food standards after January 1.

He added: “More clarity is needed for the EU to do the assessment for the third-country listing of the UK.”

EU officials have also said to the Telegraph the UK has not provided necessary information on its food standards regime to be approved in trade talks.

UK government sources have denied this.

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It follows Mr Johnson accusing the EU of threatening a food “blockade” in the Irish Sea by refusing to allow the UK “third party” status for food exports.

Defending his proposed amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement, Mr Johnson also told the EU to “take their threats off the table”.

The original Withdrawal Agreement gives the EU oversight over goods of animal origin being transported from the mainland to Northern Ireland for four years, which means Brussels could use an “extreme interpretation” to impose tariffs or make trade illegal.

Mr Johnson said the risk of that is a “danger to the very fabric of the United Kingdom” in a video call to MPs on Friday.

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