A SENIOR MEP has told MSPs the European Union will not push for a post-Brexit agreement with Britain “at all costs”

David McAllister, who chairs the UK Coordination Group in the European Parliament, said that if there is no prospect of an agreement between the UK and the EU on their future relationship, talks could be concluded.

His warning came yesterday as he gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs committee.

He said implementing the withdrawal agreement was “utterly important” for negotiating the future partnership between Britain and the bloc.

However, he added: “We have to prepare our businesses and citizens on both sides for changes that will take place on the first of January 2021 – if we have an agreement, or if we don’t have an agreement.”

McAllister said it was an “open secret” in Brussels than any request from the UK for the current Brexit transition period to be extended would be agreed, although the Christian Democrat MEP stressed “we certainly need more time” for the talks to take place. He 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,” he said.

McAllister said it was “disappointing” from a European perspective that “no real progress has been achieved” despite the three rounds of negotiations which had already taken place.

“We will not drive for an agreement to be done at all costs,” he said. “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 will then have to think how we continue our negotiations in the second half.”

He said the EU had adopted a negotiating framework for a “comprehensive partnership between both sides”.

And he added: “There will be no more cherry picking. We experienced this over many, many years and in the end, it wasn’t satisfactory for both sides.

“Unfortunately, I’m saying that as somebody who feels very close at heart to the UK. Unfortunately, our ambition hasn’t been matched by that of the UK Government. At least until now. Nevertheless, I welcome the belated publication of the UK Government of a series of legal texts, covering quite a number of areas … I think this is an important step in transparency, accountability, towards citizens.”

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Joan McAlpine, the committee convener, 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.”

McAllister also highlighted the effects the coronavirus pandemic was having on negotiations, as the lead negotiators could not meet for talks: “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 said that with the pandemic 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 extension.