The UK Government has threatened to walk away from free trade agreement talks with Brussels in the summer unless a “broad outline” of a deal has been agreed. Britain has outlined its plan for negotiations and has set a deadline for progress amid a deep division between the two sides over several issues including fishing, state subsidies and standards. The document states: “If that does not seem to be the case at the June meeting, the Government will need to decide whether the UK’s attention should move away from negotiations and focus solely on continuing domestic preparations to exit the transition period in an orderly fashion.”
Talks are set to begin on Monday, but the Government has warned it “will not negotiate any arrangements in which the UK does not have control of its own laws and political life”.
The mandate states the UK’s intention to fall back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms under an arrangement with the EU similar to Australia’s if progress on a comprehensive deal cannot be made.
A crunch meeting to assess progress is scheduled for June, by which time it should be clear if the Canada-style free trade agreement that is wanted by the Prime Minister is possible by the end of 2020.
Mr Johnson has ramped up the pressure on the EU, and wants the “broad outline of an agreement” in time for this meeting, which would be “rapidly finalised” by September.
The document states: “If that does not seem to be the case at the June meeting, the Government will need to decide whether the UK’s attention should move away from negotiations and focus solely on continuing domestic preparations to exit the transition period in an orderly fashion.”
But presenting the plans to MPs in the House of Commons, Michael Gove warned the UK “will not trade away our sovereignty” in pursuit of a full trade deal.
He warned: “We’re confident that those negotiations will lead to outcomes which work for both the UK and the EU, but this House, our European partners and above all the British people should be in no doubt – at the end of the transition period, on December 31, the United Kingdom will fully recover its economic and political independence.
“We want the best possible trading relationship with the EU, but in a pursuit of a deal, we will not trade away our sovereignty.”
He added: “We respect the EU’s sovereignty, autonomy and distinctive legal order and we expect them to respect ours.
“We will not accept nor agree to any obligations where our laws are aligned with the EU or the EU’s institutions, including the Court of Justice.”
Responding to the publication of the UK’s mandate for trade deal talks, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned the EU will “stick to all our prior commitments in the political declaration”.
He tweeted: “We take note of the UK’s mandate published today and will discuss our respective positions on Monday.
“We will stick to all our prior commitments in the Political Declaration.
“We want an ambitious & fair partnership with the UK in the future.”
European Commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant also said: “In relation to any timeline that was referred to by the UK side today, there is a mid-year rendezvous in June to assess where we are with the negotiations.
“So this is probably a very fair timeline to take by the UK Prime Minister for a rendezvous in which we take stock of the future and chances for a deal, what type of deal.”
Asked whether Brussels is preparing for the possibility of not reaching a deal with the UK, she said it would be “premature to speculate” about the result of those negotiations.
But the spokeswoman added: “The commission will keep an eye on the ball to prepare for any result of the negotiations that will start on Monday.”
In the political declaration, both sides agreed to work towards a deal “encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field”.
The EU published its own mandate on Tuesday, and has called for any agreement to use Brussels’ standards as “a reference point” over time.
This suggests the UK would be expected to remain align with changes to the rules covering state subsidies, environmental standards and workers’ rights in future, something that would breach Mr Johnson’s red lines.
But Downing Street insiders have indicated the Prime Minister believes the mandate he won in December’s general election goes far beyond the political declaration, which does not have the status of a binding international treaty.
They also claim the EU has moved away from the political declaration, pointing to the mandate from Brussels going far beyond the agreed terms on the “level playing field”.
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