Boris Johnson speaks on post-Brexit relations with EU

Marco Green
February 4, 2020

The UK prime minister and the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier set out on Monday their separate stalls for the talks, which are set to start within weeks. The details are to be worked out during a transition period lasting until the end of 2020, in which relations stay essentially unchanged.

After that, a cliff-edge looms. But Johnson insisted the choice facing Britain was not "deal or no deal".

"The question is whether we agree to a trading relationship like Canada, or like Australia".

Barnier said fisheries and fair trade would be his top priorities in the talks, with a special focus on denying Britain "unfair competitive advantages".

Speaking just over two days since Brexit, Johnson cast Britain as the "supercharged" superman of free trade, and while it would not seek to undermine the bloc with a race to the bottom, he said there was no need to accept European Union rules. "It is always rights and obligations in a good balance".

Johnson invoked an 18th century British mural as an example of "supreme national self-confidence" before laying out his negotiating stance with the European Union during a speech at the Old Naval College in Greenwich. 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.

And he sought to allay European Union fears that a post-Brexit Britain will slash workplace and environmental protections in order to gain a competitive edge.

The EU is looking for "specific and effective guarantees on level playing field over the long term", meaning upholding high standards on social, environmental, climate, tax, and state aid rules and their future changes.

It's a message aimed as much at a domestic audience as it is a t the bloc, but European Union leaders are unlikely to be impressed by what they'll see as British intransigence and wishful thinking.

"And I say to all the naive and juvenile anti-Americans in this country if there are any - there seem to be some - I say grow up and get a grip". Free-trade agreements typically take years.

"Now, the government confronts the challenge not only of successfully concluding a set of complex negotiations in under a year, but also putting in place structures and policies to replace those of the EU".

Britain flexed its muscles for the first time as an independent nation at the World Trade Organisation today as it looked to redefine itself on the global stage after Brexit.

The devil will be in the details, and Britain's position as outlined i n a government document is less set in stone than Johnson's speech suggested. Both sides are supposed to use the transition period to negotiate arrangements on trade, transportation, security, foreign policy, communications and data sharing.

The government also stressed that while it is ready to consider an agreement with Brussels on fisheries, "it must reflect the fact that the United Kingdom will be an independent coastal state from the end of this year, controlling our own waters". 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.

One word was noticeably missing from his wide-ranging speech: "Brexit". Asked whether he had banned the term, he said: "It's not banned".

Mr. Johnson's speech to diplomats, business leaders and others in the baroque surroundings of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, south London, was predictably more colorful and political than Mr. Barnier's technocratic news conference in Brussels.

"We are not leaving the EU to undermine European standards".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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