Johnson lays out vision of trade ties with EU

Andrew Cummings
February 4, 2020

Britain wants to negotiate a trade deal by the end of 2020, though European Union leaders said the further Britain diverges from their rules the less access it would have to the European Union market.

Michel Barnier laid out the bloc's draft negotiating guidelines on the future relationship, saying the European Union needs to remain "clear-headed".

Johnson said United Kingdom officials would be prepared to walk away from talks if the sides can not strike a deal.

Barring that Johnson said Britain would be happy to match the EU's current ties with far-away Australia, which include tariffs, quotas and some basic cooperation on product safety.

Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now described Mr Johnson's speech as his "usual pantomime set-piece" while the clock has already begun ticking to strike a UK-EU deal before the end of the year.

After that, a cliff-edge looms.

"The choice is emphatically not "deal or no-deal".

Barnier said the bloc is willing to make the "exceptional offer" of a zero-tariff, zero-quota deal on all goods entering the European Union, as well as an ambitious deal on services such as banking.

A 33-page draft mandate for negotiations released as Barnier spoke had one section in bold, and that read: "the envisaged partnership must ensure open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field". "It is always rights and obligations in a good balance".

In his speech, Mr Johnson said the NHS would not be up for negotiation with the USA and insisted that Britain will "not accept any diminution in food hygiene or animal welfare standards". The vast hall, covered in paintings glorifying British achievement, is where Adm. Horatio Nelson lay in state after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar against the navies of France and Spain in 1805. The EU-Canada deal that the British government cites as a model took seven years to negotiate.

Laying out the enormous scale of the task ahead, senior officials at the European Commission, the bloc's executive, said there would be parallel negotiations with the British on 12 separate topics, culminating in an overarching deal.

"It is important for European citizens to know that the single market will be protected", she said.

Barnier suggested the deal on fish will be prerequisite for the broader trade deal, saying the issue is "inextricably" linked to the trade talks.

It might be March before formal trade talks between the two sides commence, as the EU27 need to agree a joint position.

Even if there is a relatively benign trade deal, the economy here could still take a major hit. But time is short because Britain wants to wrap things up by the end of the year, a deadline seen as breathtakingly optimistic by many trade experts.

That prospect alarms many businesses, especially in sectors such as the auto industry, which depend on the easy flow of parts across borders. "In either case, I have no doubt that Britain will prosper mightily".

Shortly before Johnson spoke, the European Union set out its draft negotiating mandate, calling for "reciprocal access" for fishing vessels, and stating that a free trade area with no tariffs or quotas was contingent on a "level playing field ... ensured through robust commitments".

The terms of any deal would not apply to Gibraltar, instead separate agreements would have to be reached - with Spain having a veto over arrangements relating to the territory it claims sovereignty over.

One word was noticeably missing from his wide-ranging speech: "Brexit".

But judging by the statements from both sides of the English Channel on Monday, that hope seems likely to be unfulfilled.

"You can not accuse us of a lack of ambition", he told a news conference in Brussels.

Other reports by iNewsToday