Johnson lays out vision of trade ties with EU

Elias Hubbard
February 5, 2020

The EU is constantly saying that it took seven years to arrange the Canada deal, ok it did; but you've now got another country that wants to adopt nearly exactly the same thing, in which case, as Boris Johnson has said, it's oven-ready, it's off the shelf, let's just move on with that.

These are initial positions and eventually both sides are likely to compromise.

The comments come in response to Brussel's Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier's assertions that this is what Britain will have to do in order to avoid leaving the bloc under WTO rules.

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson doubled down on the government's message that the United Kingdom will not be a "rule-taker" at the end of the transition period in December 2020, saying he would rather accept tariffs than more European Union regulations.

Mr Johnson confirmed that if a Canada-style agreement was not possible, he would be prepared to walk away without a full trade deal. If the combative exchanges on Monday are any indication, those discussions will be hard fought and acrimonious. Mr Barnier said an agreement on fisheries "will be inextricably linked to the trade agreement". The Commissioner explained that, while the rule of law cluster would be opened first, there would be no sequencing - countries would not need to close this cluster to open other ones, as in the French proposal. 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.

Mr Johnson used a speech in London, to stress his commitment to free trade - and signal his determination to secure an arrangement with Brussels along the lines of that agreed between the European Union and Canada. Both parties have stated that the ambition is to strike a comprehensive free trade deal but it is also clear that the two parties have different priorities. But his uncompromising tone over trade underscored the scale of the challenge ahead. Though of limited economic significance, fishing is symbolically and emotionally important both in Britain and in continental Europe.

If the British request is "for access to 450 million consumers, zero tariffs. zero quotas, that won't happen for nothing and without conditions", Mr. Barnier told reporters in Brussels. One would have to like the prospects of a free trade agreement between London and Washington.

He added that Britain had agreed in a political declaration past year to create a "level playing field".

According to the British Prime Minister, free trade is actually something good and the tensions that have arisen in the world as a result of all kinds of rates are damaging to the world economy.

Johnson however now firmly believes that an Australian or Canadian style agreement can be hashed out in the coming months.

At one stage, sterling was down 1.3 per cent against the euro at €1.1743.

The EU hasn't added a member state since Croatia joined in 2013. In other words, it's a bigger customer.

EU officials and some member states are dreading a possible repetition of Belgium's Wallonia nearly derailing the EU-Canada free trade deal in 2016.

"At best it removes tariffs and quotas", he said.

Stephen Castle reported from London and Matina Stevis-Gridneff reported from Brussels.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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