UK goes tough for EU trade talks

Foreign Desk Report

LONDON: Britain laid out a tough opening stance for future talks with the European Union on Sunday, saying it would set its own agenda rather than meeting the bloc’s rules to ensure frictionless trade.
After officially leaving the EU on Friday, Britain now must negotiate future trade relations with the bloc, to take effect when a standstill transition period expires at the end of the year.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has been quick to send Brussels a message before trade talks begin in March: Brexit, for him, means sovereignty trumps the economy.
The EU has repeatedly told Britain the level of access to its lucrative single market will depend on how far London agrees to adhere to a “level playing field” shorthand for rules on environmental standards, labor regulations and state aid.
But despite the appeals of many businesses for the government to ensure goods can trade across borders freely, ministers have been briefing companies that they should adjust to a new future when Britain will not adhere to EU rules.
Johnson, according to sources close to him, has taken last year’s election, which handed him a large majority in parliament, as approval for his policy of putting Britain’s right to set its own rules above the demands of businesses. He will outline that approach in a speech on Monday.
“We are taking back control of our laws, so we are not going to have high alignment with the EU, legislative alignment with their rules,” foreign minister Dominic Raab told Sky News. “But we’ll want to cooperate and we expect the EU to follow through on their commitment to a Canada-style free trade agreement.”
After more than three years of often tortuous talks, Johnson wants to draw a line under what has been an angry debate that has deepened divides across the country. His aim is a trade deal allowing for tariff- and quota-free trade in goods, similar to the terms the bloc now has in place with Canada.
Asked whether the government expected businesses to have to prepare for new checks on goods at the border, Raab said: “The agreement that we made with the EU was to avoid all of that, and I am sure they will want to live up to the undertakings they have made just as we’d expect to do the same.”