The UK’s access to the single market will be weakened if it does not continue to sign up to EU rules after Brexit, Ursula von der Leyen has said.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the European Commission’s president warned of “more distance” between the UK and EU if such a state of affairs came about.
She also insisted that trade talks would begin in February, following speculation that there could be a further delay until March.
Her comments came as the chancellor, Sajid Javid, said there was “no point” in leaving the EU unless the UK was going to ditch the Brussels rule book.
Ms Von der Leyen’s said that the “next negotiations will start in February with our British friends” and said officials would “work day and night” to reach a deal.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, has set himself a deadline of reaching a trade deal by the end of the transition period in December. If one is not secured by that point, UK firms will face tariffs and quotas that could wreck their businesses.
“The closer the UK is to the European Union, the better the access to the single market,” Ms Von der Leyen told the conference.
“If it is the UK’s choice not to do so, to be more distant to the European Union, well, then there will be more distance to the single market where the level playing field is concerned and where free movement of goods, capital and services is concerned.”
Mr Javid, who was also speaking at the conference, said a deal could “absolutely” be agreed by 31 December.
“There is a strong belief on both sides it can be done,” he said.
“Both sides recognise, of course, that it’s a tight timetable, a lot needs to be put together in the time that we have, but it can be done and it can be done for both goods – where we want to see free trade, zero tariffs, zero quotas – but also on services.”
The UK is set to leave the EU at the end of the month once the withdrawal agreement has been ratified.