EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan has said that the UK is going to blame Covid-19 for “all the fallout from Brexit”.
He also warned that the combination of the virus and Brexit will be "an almighty blow" to the UK economy later in the year and this will spill over into Ireland.
Speaking on RTÉ radio's Today with Sean O'Rourke show, Mr Hogan said that "despite the urgency and enormity of the negotiating challenge, I am afraid we are only making very slow progress in the Brexit negotiations.
“There is no real sign that our British friends are approaching the negotiations with a plan to succeed. I hope I am wrong, but I don't think so.
“I think that the United Kingdom politicians and government have certainly decided that Covid is going to be blamed for all the fallout from Brexit and my perception of it is they don't want to drag the negotiations out into 2021 because they can effectively blame Covid for everything.”
Mr Hogan said that there was great unity between EU countries and that “divide and rule tactics” should not be used by the UK. “If they’re trying this tactic again it won’t work.”
The EU is serious about a deal and wants predictability and stability on the EU side.
He added that in parallel to negotiations on the political declaration and trade aspects “we want to see the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement” as the Irish protocol had involved painstaking negotiations and the EU did not want to see any delay in the implementation of phase one.
Time is short and issues including fisheries and level playing field governance will have to be on the table very shortly, he said. Agreement would be needed ahead of a planned meeting at the end of June between European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Mr Hogan also acknowledged that the initial European reaction to Covid-19 had been protectionist. This had not sent out a good signal about EU solidarity and it wasn't until mid-March that the EU harmonised and coordinated a response.
There was now a "dedicated stockpile" which could be sent to where it was needed, he said.
No one had been properly prepared for the pandemic, including China. Mr Hogan pointed out that in mid-March there were 10 companies in Europe manufacturing masks, now there are 500 and the EU is now 100% self-sufficient in masks.