May’s post-Brexit trade plan with EU dealt blow by key ally

Theresa May’s plans for a Brexit deal that delivers frictionless trade with the EU have been dealt a blow by a key European ally who has said there will be more bureaucracy after leaving the bloc.

The Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, said after talks with his UK counterpart in Copenhagen that there would be an inevitable price to pay for Britain leaving the single market.

Following a bilateral meeting with May, he told reporters at a joint press conference: “We should avoid too many changes in our relations and I am totally in favour of an enhanced trade agreement between the EU and UK.

“I hope if there’s willingness … we will close a deal which will be as close to what we know now as possible. But we have to be realistic and we have to realise that there will be changes. Leaving the single market comes with a price tag and unfortunately the price tag is also a Danish price tag.

“That is the reality of life. There will be more bureaucracy in future, unfortunately.”

The European council president, Donald Tusk, has already told the UK that it should not expect frictionless trade outside the single market. “Friction is an inevitable side-effect of Brexit,” he said in March.

Rasmussen, whose country is generally regarded as sympathetic toward the UK having also joined the EU in 1973, insisted Brussels was simply aiming to be “realistic and fair” in the negotiations.

May also signalled that the government’s goal of cutting net annual immigration to below 100,000 would remain in place after Brexit.

She said: “We recognise the concern that people in the UK have about this issue of net migration into the UK, which is why we set ourselves the target … and want to continue to work to ensure that we address that particular target.”

Her position was in stark contrast to that of her home secretary, Amber Rudd, who repeatedly refused to confirm to the Commons home affairs committee last month that she was aiming to meet the target by the next election.

The two leaders also discussed fishing rights, and May promised that Denmark, whose boats regularly fish in British waters, would get “fair and reciprocal access” after Brexit.

Britain is braced for tough negotiations with Brussels after delaying the decision over who will control and have access to its territorial waters. The government is also facing calls at home from an increasingly belligerent fishing industry to restrict the number of foreign boats.

May, who backed remaining in the EU, again refused to say whether she had changed her mind about Brexit when challenged by a Danish journalist.