Barnier and Johnson clash over post-Brexit ties

Cheryl Sanders
February 4, 2020

Across the Channel in London, however, a typically bombastic address by Boris Johnson promised that the United Kingdom would use its new status to make the case for free trade which he said was being "choked" by "mercantilists and protectionists" in "Beijing, Brussels and Washington DC". In a speech to business leaders and worldwide diplomats in London, Johnson plans to say "we want a free trade agreement", but not at any cost.

"The choice is emphatically not 'deal or no-deal, '" Johnson plans to say, according to extracts released by his office.

In Brussels, senior officials warned that a failure to agree to a new relationship again threatened a "cliff-edge" departure, a sudden change in trading rules that could damage businesses on both sides of the Channel, but particularly in Britain.

"But on the whole, although Barnier and Johnson have indeed set out markedly different visions for trade relations, the UK Prime Minister was careful not to emphasise any of the sort of red lines that sunk his predecessor's negotiations with the European Union".

Worries over trade negotiations sent the pound sinking more than 1.1 percent against the dollar in London midday deals on Monday.

Barnier told France Inter radio that "there will be no trade deal with the British if there is no reciprocal access deal for our fishermen".

In his speech, the PM will say: "We have often been told that we must choose between full access to the European Union market, along with accepting its rules and courts on the Norway model, or an ambitious free trade agreement, which opens up markets and avoids the full panoply of European Union regulation, on the example of Canada".

There are just 11 months from now until the deadline of 31 December 2020.

A post-Brexit "transition period", in which relations stay essentially unchanged, runs until the end of 2020.

Until then, Britain has agreed to abide by the rules of European Union membership, but failing a deal, the two sides would fall on the most barebones of relationships causing big shocks to the cross-channel economy.

The prime minister is likely to set out his vision of a Canada-style free trade agreement, with hopes of no tariffs or quotas on trade in goods. But it is adamant it won't agree to follow the EU's entire rule book in return for unfettered trade, because it wants to be free to diverge in order to strike other new deals around the world.

Michel Barnier, unveiling the European Commission's mandate for talks with Britain on their future relationship, said there should be a level playing field over the long term on social, state aid and environmental standards.

The prime minister chose to deliver his speech in the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich on the River Thames, a spot steeped in Britain's past military glories. At the beginning of his speech, Johnson invoked the 18th century ceiling mural of James Thornhill as an example of "supreme national self-confidence".

"The U.K. will maintain the highest standards in these areas - better, in many respects, than those of the European Union - without the compulsion of a treaty", Johnson said. Formal talks won't start until next month, once they have been approved by the remaining 27 European Union nations. Free-trade agreements typically take years.

He said his government could consider a fisheries agreement, but with "annual negotiations" and assurances that "British fishing grounds are first and foremost for British boats".

Both sides are supposed to use the transition period to negotiate arrangements on trade, transportation, security, foreign policy, communications and data sharing.

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