3 February 2020 | UK NEWS
The Prime Minister has outlined his vision for how Britain should act in the world now that Brexit has taken place, and in particular after most of its effects kick in at the end of the year. Speaking at an event in Greenwich, he particularly emphasised Britain’s role in championing free trade around the globe, in accordance with its long history of doing so.
In his wide-ranging speech, which was described by some observers as “Churchillian”, Mr Johnson stressed that there was “no need” for the UK to follow EU rules and regulations as a necessary precursor to a free trade agreement. This came alongside the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, separately announcing during an interview yesterday that the EU’s vision of a “level playing field”, whereby the UK continued to be broadly aligned with its standards, “just ain’t happening”. The Prime Minister also reaffirmed his Government’s stance on the UK’s fishing industry, stating that Britain’s coastal waters would be “first and foremost” for UK fishing boats.
It comes as the EU outlined its own initial negotiating position with the UK this morning. Michel Barnier said that French and Spanish trawlers continuing to fish in British waters would be “inextricably linked” to any comprehensive free trade deal with the EU, as would the “robust commitments ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition” as set out in the EU’s negotiating mandate. He also stressed that he did not believe 11 months would be long enough for agreements to be reached in all of these areas.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, Mr Barnier stated that the level of unrestricted access to the EU markets that the UK could obtain once the transition period expires would be dependent upon the extent to which it was willing to maintain common standards. He added: “This will be up to the UK to decide. Will it continue to adhere to Europe’s societal and regulatory model in the future or will it seek to diverge? The UK’s answer to this question will be fundamental to the level of our ambition of our future relationship. The UK must know this.”
But in his speech in Greenwich, the Prime Minister said: “There is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policies, subsidies, social protection, the environment or anything similar, any more than the EU should be obliged to accept UK rules. 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. The question is whether we agree a trading relationship with the EU comparable to Canada’s or more like Australia’s and I have no doubt that in either case the UK will prosper mightily.”
Mr Johnson was referring to the fact that Australia’s relationship with the EU is far looser than, for example, Canada’s, with a series of deals covering certain individual areas but no overarching agreement on trade. However, he also described the likelihood of Britain pursuing a very loose relationship with the EU as an “unlikely event”.
Lastly, the EU has suggested that the European Court of Justice should “continue its role in full”, in terms of having primacy over UK court judgments, in return for continued security co-operation. The UK negotiating team is highly likely to reject this out of hand.
We will bring you further updates on the progress of the future relationship negotiations as they come in. By all accounts, if today’s clash of perspectives is anything to go by, the coming year promises to be no less interesting than the last.