Britain, on trade collision course with EU, says it could walk away
LONDON: Britain unveiled a negotiating mandate on Thursday for talks with the European Union that puts it on a collision course with Brussels, saying it was ready to walk away if “good progress” was not made by June.
After officially leaving the EU last month, Britain has until the end of the year to negotiate a trade deal and agreements on everything from fishing to transport, to replace more than 40 years of closely aligned political and economic relations.
Having accepted that, by leaving the EU’s customs union and single market, British businesses will encounter new “frictions” in trade with the bloc, the government has made its stance clear - self-determination must trump economic concerns.
So if, by June, “good progress” has not been made on Britain’s demand for what it calls a “standard” free trade agreement or even on the “least controversial areas” of the talks, London said it would focus on preparations for a sharp break with the EU.
“At the end of the transition period on the 31st of December, the United Kingdom will fully recover its economic and political independence,” cabinet office minister Michael Gove told parliament as he unveiled the mandate.
“We want the best possible trading relationship with the EU, but in pursuit of a deal we will not trade away our sovereignty.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the face of Britain’s campaign to leave the EU in 2016, vowed to get Brexit done at last year’s election and, after winning a large majority, has charged his team with the goal of “taking back control”.
Both sides say they want a deal to be agreed before the deadline of Dec. 31, 2020 so that trade can flow, albeit with some additional checks, and that arrangements on issues such as aviation can roll over seamlessly.
But with the two sides unable to agree on even the format of talks scheduled to begin on Monday, the negotiations look set to be a battle of wills.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said Brussels had taken “note” of the mandate. “We will stick to all our prior commitments in the political declaration,” he tweeted, referring to an outline agreement on future ties signed by both sides.
“We want an ambitious and fair partnership with the UK in the future.” - Reuters