Barnier says for UK access to EU market competition must be free and fair

European Commission's Head of Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom Michel Barnier gives a news conference on the first day of the face-to-face European Union (EU) summit at the European Council Building in Brussels, Belgium October 15, 2020. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain is free to diverge from European Union rules after Dec. 31, but that divergence must be reasonable if it wants zero-tariff and zero-quota access to the bloc’s 450 million consumers and 22 million companies, the EU’s Brexit negotiator said.

“We are absolutely determined to reach a fair deal with the UK. We will do everything that we can, but not at any price,” Michel Barnier told a news conference after EU leaders discussed the impasse in Brexit negotiations.

My negotiation team and I will continue intensive discussions over the coming weeks,” he said. “Our position has been crystal clear... If you want access to our market of 450 million people, there must be a level playing field.”

Reporting by Kate Abnett and John Chalmers