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Britain's Johnson to detail tough stance in EU trade talks

Update: February, 03/2020 - 11:11

 

Upon leaving the EU, the UK immediately entered an 11-month transition period agreed as part of the divorce, during which there will be little change in practical terms. — AFP/VNA Photo

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson will on Monday outline a hardline stance in post-Brexit negotiations with the European Union, arguing Britain does not need to follow various EU rules to strike a trade deal.

In a keynote speech detailing his vision for the country's future, days after its historic departure from the bloc following nearly half a century of membership, Johnson is to say he will seek a "pragmatic agreement".

The British premier will note London has been told in earlier divorce talks with Brussels that it has the option of an ambitious trade deal, "which opens up markets and avoids the full panoply of EU regulation".

"There is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection, the environment, or anything similar," Johnson is set to say, according to excerpts of the address released by his Downing Street office.

"The UK will maintain the highest standards in these areas - better, in many respects, than those of the EU - without the compulsion of a treaty and it is vital to stress this now," he will add.

Johnson also insists that if that type of agreement, similar to one the EU recently struck with Canada, is not possible then Britain would opt for a less comprehensive trade deal.

"The choice is emphatically not 'deal or no-deal'," he will say.

But in a sign of the potentially fraught nature of the high-stakes talks, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar urged London on Sunday to "tone down" what he called "nationalistic rhetoric".

Britain should avoid repeating the past mistake of insisting on "rigid red lines" which "makes it hard to come to an agreement", he said.

'Infuriated'

Late on Friday, Britain ended almost half a century of often reluctant membership of the European Union, an organisation set up to forge unity among nations after the horrors of World War II.

Upon leaving, the UK immediately entered an 11-month transition period agreed as part of the divorce, during which there will be little change in practical terms.

Britons will be able to work in the EU and trade freely - and vice versa - until December 31, although the UK will no longer be represented in the bloc's institutions.

Legally however, Britain is out, and attention is now turning to what may prove to be gruelling talks with Brussels this year to hammer out all aspects of the future partnership.

Johnson, a polarising figure accused of glossing over the complexity of leaving the EU, is in a rush to seal an agreement.

He has vowed not to extend the transition phase, giving himself just 11 months to find consensus on everything from fishing to finance - not enough time, according to his critics.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who will set out the bloc's negotiating positions also in a speech in Brussels on Monday, has warned that some items will have to be a priority.

He wants handshakes on fisheries, internal and external security and, above all, trade in goods.

France reminded Britain on Sunday that the UK exports most of its fish production to European Union countries, highlighting a potential bargaining chip in coming post-Brexit talks about fishing rights that promise to be thorny.

But the bloc is also said to fear being undercut on their own doorstep if Britain's does not commit to following its regulatory framework.

'New era'

British newspapers reported on Sunday that the government is readying for a bruising battle, and unwilling to offer many of the compromises set to be demanded by the EU.

The eurosceptic Sunday Telegraph said Johnson was "privately infuriated" at perceived EU attempts "to frustrate a comprehensive free trade deal".

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab acknowledged there was "a bit of frustration" in London that "commitments" seen as already agreed in the initial Brexit divorce deal were not being "lived up to".

London is also now free to strike trade agreements around the world, including with the United States, whose President Donald Trump is an enthusiastic Brexit supporter.

One of his top envoys on Friday hailed an "exciting new era".

At a special Brexit day ministers' meeting in northeast England, Johnson discussed an aim to get 80 per cent of Britain's commerce covered by trade agreements within three years, a spokesman said.

Raab said on Sunday that he would embark on a tour of Asia and Australia next week, a trip encompassing Japan, Singapore and Malaysia.

The Foreign Office declined to release further details.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that a trade deal is earmarked to be agreed with Japan by Christmas, followed by more agreements with Australia and New Zealand in mid-2021. — AFP

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