In a not-so-veiled warning to the UK, German foreign minister Heiko Maas said Britain must still abide by EU rules if it wants full access to the bloc's single market.
"By the end of the year, we need to be clear on the shape of our relationship," Mass wrote in a guest article in German weekly Die Zeit in reference to the post-Brexit transition period.
"So let me say very openly: Yes, we all want zero tariffs and zero trade barriers, but that also means zero dumping and zero unfair competition. Without similar standards to protect our workers, our consumers and the environment, there can be no full access to the largest single market in the world," he added.
Maas is also sceptical about how much control Britons may actually get without losing the benefits of free trade with the EU. And that, he stressed, is not an attempt to punish Britain for leaving, but the reality that London and Brussels will have to negotiate their future relationship in a "way that wouldn't harm the European Union."
As he lists the issues that require negotiation, such as "free trade, fair competition, visa-free travel, work and travel opportunities, university exchanges, protections against terrorism and organised crime, management of international crises," Maas acknowledges that "things haven't always been easy, especially since the Brexit referendum."
The German minister also suggested that should Britain change its mind, there would be "place for you at our table in Brussels." He said that the Beatles sang: "You say goodbye, I say hello," adding that the ‘goodbye' is sorted and it is time to focus on ‘hello.'
As Brexit day looms, Britain will cease to be a member of the EU after 11pm on 31 January, with UK prime minister Boris Johnson having set an ambitious 2021 deadline for the acquisition of a trade deal with the EU, insisting that an agreement should be hammered out by the end of December or the UK will leave the transition period effectively on no-deal Brexit terms.
As Martin Wolf wrote in the FT: "Britain after Brexit will not be alone, but it will be lonelier".