Business

Ready to fight: U.K.'s Johnson set to demand comprehensive trade deal from EU or walk away

Bloomberg, Reuters, AFP-JIJI

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to say he is prepared to quit talks with the European Union over his country’s future trade relationship with the bloc if he doesn’t get his way.

In his first speech since Britain formally quit the EU, Johnson will spell out to businesspeople and diplomats Monday his aims for negotiating future trade terms with the EU. Brussels negotiators are set to publish their own mandate the same day.

Johnson will say he wants a comprehensive trade deal at least as good as Canada’s agreement with the EU but will be ready to take a looser arrangement like Australia’s if talks fail, according to a U.K. official.

Johnson also will spell out that there will be no alignment with EU standards, that European law courts will have no jurisdiction over the U.K. and that he will make no concessions, the official said. He will also make it clear that the National Health Service is not up for grabs in any trade talks.

Johnson has repeatedly said that the parties have to conclude their negotiations by the end of the year and that there will be no extension. Critics say Johnson, a polarizing figure accused of glossing over the complexity of leaving the bloc, has not given himself enough time to seal a deal.

“There are only two likely outcomes in negotiation — a free trade deal like Canada or a looser arrangement like Australia — and we are happy to pursue both,” the U.K. official said.

Canada does not follow EU rules, but some EU governments are reluctant to give Britain similar leeway to diverge on labor and environmental standards, given the much greater trade volumes involved.

In some areas, such as the minimum wage, maternity leave and the elimination of single-use plastics, British standards significantly exceed EU minimums.

British newspapers reported that the government was readying for a bruising battle with Brussels.

The euroskeptic newspaper Sunday Telegraph said Johnson had already become “privately infuriated” at perceived EU attempts “to frustrate a comprehensive free trade deal.”

A leaked memo from Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab orders U.K. diplomats to make an immediate break with former European allies, in ways such as not sitting alongside them at international summits, the Sunday Times said. It instructed them to “adopt a stance as a confident independent country,” the paper added.

Brexit has unleashed deep divisions in British society, with many fearing the consequences of ending 47 years of ties with their nearest neighbors.

Brexit has also provoked soul-searching in the EU about its future after losing a country of 66 million people with global diplomatic clout and the financial center of the City of London.

French President Emmanuel Macron described it as a “historic warning sign” that should force the bloc and its remaining nations of more than 440 million people to stop and reflect.

Britain’s diplomatic mission in Brussels on Saturday changed the building’s nameplate to read “UK Mission to the European Union,” signaling its new nonmember status.

Joao Vale de Almeida, the newly named EU ambassador to Britain, said on Twitter he looked forward to “laying the foundations for a solid EU/UK relationship.”

Getting to this point has been a traumatic process and, while the divorce terms have been agreed upon, finding consensus on future relations with the EU — its largest trading partner — could be equally hard.

London is also now free to strike trade agreements around the world, including with the United States, where President Donald Trump is an enthusiastic Brexit supporter.

One of his top envoys on Friday hailed an “exciting new era.”

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