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UK and EU on collision course as they set out opposing visions for trade deal


Looking up: Boris Johnson delivers a speech in Greenwich. Photo: Frank Augstein/PA

Looking up: Boris Johnson delivers a speech in Greenwich. Photo: Frank Augstein/PA


Looking up: Boris Johnson delivers a speech in Greenwich. Photo: Frank Augstein/PA

The UK and the EU are on a collision course for a Brexit trade battle as Boris Johnson and Michel Barnier set out competing visions of the future relationship.

Major stumbling blocks are already obvious, just days after the UK left the EU, with battles over fishing and the application of a "level playing field" on issues including state subsidies, environmental standards and workers' rights.

The British prime minister insisted there was "no need" to abide by EU rules and said British fishing grounds are "first and foremost" for UK boats.

But the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said allowing EU trawlers into British waters was "inextricably linked" to securing a trade deal.

And he pointed to the joint political declaration, agreed with Mr Johnson, which committed the UK to "robust commitments to ensure a level playing field".

Mr Johnson used a speech in London, to stress his commitment to free trade - and signal his determination to secure an arrangement with Brussels along the lines of that agreed between the EU and Canada.

"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," he said.

"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."

Downing Street said the UK will agree to some regulatory alignment with the EU, but would not accept alleged breaches being ruled on by the European Court of Justice.

Mr Johnson confirmed that if a Canada-style agreement was not possible, he would be prepared to walk away without a full trade deal. He insisted that leaving on the far looser terms would be an "unlikely event".

However, it would leave the UK trading with the EU under the high tariffs set by the World Trade Organisation, though side deals could be struck to ensure areas such as aviation can run smoothly.

Downing Street claimed a no-deal Brexit was now "an irrelevant concept" because the Withdrawal Agreement is in place, although it falls far short of being a trade deal.

"The issues of citizens' rights, of the Northern Irish Border, they are now settled - over and done with," Mr Johnson's official spokesman said.

While the UK is ready to consider an agreement with Brussels on fisheries, "it must reflect the fact that the UK will be an independent coastal state from the end of this year, controlling our own waters".

"Under such an agreement there would be annual negotiations with the EU, using the latest scientific data, ensuring British fishing grounds are first and foremost for British boats."

Meanwhile, the EU set out its draft negotiating mandate yesterday, calling for "reciprocal access" for fishing vessels, and stating a free trade area with no tariffs or quotas was contingent on a "level playing field... ensured through robust commitments". Mr Barnier said an agreement on fisheries "will be inextricably linked to the trade agreement".

He said that "where there's a will, there's a way" to reach a deal. However Mr Barnier, who said he had a "very direct and frank relationship" with Mr Johnson, suggested it would not be possible to complete the whole deal within 11 months.

Irish Independent