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The prime minister said there was “no need” to accept Brussels’ demands for a “level playing field” on areas like worker’s rights, the environment, tax and state aid.
It put him on a collision course with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who insisted a level playing field was “inextricably linked” to Johnson’s call for a comprehensive Canada-style free trade agreement.
Johnson said if Brussels did not relax its red lines and approve a Canada-style deal, the UK would enter a much more restricted Australia-style relationship with the EU, which would mean no trade agreement and the imposition of potentially damaging tariffs, quotas and checks on British businesses.
The pair were setting out their opening positions for the second phase of Brexit negotiations.
The PM wants to conclude a deal by the end of the year when the standstill transition period, during which there is very little change in the country’s relationship with the EU, finishes.
At a speech in the grand painted hall at Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College, Johnson did not mention “Brexit” once, instead referring to “the B-word”, confirming HuffPost UK’s revelation that he now wants the country to move on.
Setting out his demands, the PM 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,” 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.”
He went on: “We want a comprehensive free trade agreement similar to Canada’s, but in the unlikely event that we do not succeed then our trade will have to be based on our existing withdrawal agreement with the EU.
“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.”
Barnier insisted the EU was ready to make an “exceptional offer” for a comprehensive FTA but that it was conditional on competition remaining “open and fair” with “specific and effective guarantees” to ensure a level playing field over the long term.
“That means mechanisms to uphold the high standards we have on social, environmental, climate, tax and state aid matters,” he said.
Major battles also lie ahead on fish, with Barnier insisting on an agreement that allows European trawlers access to British waters and vice versa with “stable quota shares”.
Johnson said the UK was willing to do a deal but insisted quotas must be up for negotiation every year “using the latest scientific data, ensuring British fishing grounds are first and foremost for British boats”.
Barnier also insisted the UK must agree a role for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) if it wants to agree a new binding security partnership with the EU.
But Johnson suggested there was “no need” for a new treaty in many of these areas.
“I see no need to bind ourselves to an agreement with the EU – we will restore full sovereign control over our borders and immigration, competition, subsidy rules, procurement, data protection,” he said.
“And while we will always cooperate with our European friends in foreign and defence policy whenever our interests converge as they often, if not always, will, this will not in my view necessarily require any new treaty or new institutions.
“Because we will not need them for the simple reason that the UK is not a European power by treaty or by law but by irrevocable facts of history, geography and language and culture and instinct and sentiment.”
Whatever happens, it will not be “business as usual”, Barnier said.
Even if the two sides agree a Canada-style deal, the UK would have left the single market and customs union and so businesses would face barriers to trade relating to rules of origin and customs.
Access to EU markets would be subject to “certification and market authorisation and supervision activities”.
There would be no harmonisation or mutual recognition of rules, and UK financial services providers would no longer enjoy EU “passporting rights” that allow them to sell into the EU.
Goods entering the EU from the UK would be subject to regulatory checks, Barnier said.
“These are the automatic and mechanical consequences of the UK’s choices and businesses must adapt now to this new reality,” he added.
Barnier said the more the UK was prepared to maintain common standards with the EU, the higher quality access it would get to EU markets.
“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?” he said.
“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.”
And he warned that there was little chance of concluding a deal in all areas by the end of the year.
“To do everything we will need more than 11 months of time – it won’t be business as usual,” he said.