Barnier and Johnson clash over post-Brexit ties

Marco Green
February 4, 2020

The EU and Britain will set the stage for Brexit's next bruising chapter on Monday, laying down their vision and red lines for a post-divorce future following the UK's dramatic exit from the bloc. It deals mainly with eliminating tariffs, opening up government procurement and creating an independent dispute settlement system.

With the talks not due to start until March, the tough talk could be part of a negotiating strategy for both sides.

"This is the early phase, and the chest-beating phase of the negotiation", said Sam Lowe, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, a research institute in London. "In the next couple of months we will see both sides standing firm and appealing to domestic audiences".

He said: "Talk of a bare-bones deal could pause investment".

"Humanity needs. some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with his cloak flowing as the supercharged champion of the right of populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other", he said, referring to Superman's alternate character.

"And at the same time, in this trade agreement, we want an agreement on the level playing field", he added. We'll work to avoid that, but if we can't manage a deal by the end of the year there will be a cliff-edge on many fronts.

He delivered it 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.

"There will be two conditions which will be very clear in this trade agreement: we want an agreement on fisheries, which will be hard, on reciprocal access to waters and markets for British and French fishermen", Barnier told French broadcaster LCI on Sunday. But his uncompromising tone over trade underscored the scale of the challenge ahead.

Until then, Britain has agreed to abide by the rules of European Union membership, but failing a deal, the two sides would resort to the most basic of relationships with border checks and high tariffs causing big shocks to the cross-channel economy. "If the request is to have broad access to a market of 450 million European consumers, zero tariffs, zero quotas - that won't happen for nothing, or in any kind of condition".

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".

Britain says it wants a "Canada-style" free-trade agreement with the European Union covering both goods and services.

At midnight a pound was worth 1.318 dollars, but by midday on Monday it was down to 1.305 dollars - a fall of 1 per cent as Boris Johnson accused the European Union of reneging on promises before Brexit negotiations have even started.

In addition to a deal with the European Union, the government also wants to make progress in striking free trade agreements with countries such as the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Each of the remaining 27 member states will have veto rights over the new agreement with the British.

But this new stance actually goes against what Boris Johnson signed in the Political Declaration that accompanied the EU Withdrawal agreement agreed with the other EU nations.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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