Post-Brexit talks: UK prepared to walk away in June if no progress

Media caption,
Michael Gove: UK is not seeking EU rules alignment

The UK has warned the EU it will walk away from trade talks in June unless there is a "broad outline" of a deal.

Michael Gove told MPs the UK wanted to strike a "comprehensive free trade agreement" in 10 months.

But the government would not accept any alignment with EU laws as the EU is demanding, with Mr Gove adding: "We will not trade away our sovereignty."

The EU has already set out its priorities ahead of the formal start of the talks on Monday.

The government has published a 30-page document outlining its priorities for the talks.

The UK document says:

  • The UK "will not negotiate any arrangements in which the UK does not have control of its own laws and political life"
  • The UK's aim is for a trading relationship with the EU similar to the ones the 27-nation bloc has with Canada, Japan and South Korea
  • There will be no jurisdiction for EU law or the European Court of Justice in the UK
  • The UK will rely on World Trade Organization rules under an arrangement with the EU similar to Australia's if progress on a comprehensive deal cannot be made
  • A separate agreement on fisheries is needed, to reflect the fact that "the UK will be an independent coastal state at the end of 2020"
  • The government wants to agree a "broad outline" of a deal with the EU "capable of being rapidly finalised by September" in the next four months
  • If that does not happen it will decide whether to switch focus to leaving on WTO terms at the end of December

The UK officially left the EU at the end of January, but is continuing to abide by many EU rules while talks on a permanent trading relationship take place.

Mr Johnson has pledged to get a deal with the EU by the end of the so-called transition period - 31 December 2020 - and has said he is not prepared to extend that deadline.

The UK's negotiating team will be led by Mr Johnson's Europe adviser David Frost.

Analysis from BBC Political Correspondent Leila Nathoo

Thought Brexit was done?

Sorry to disappoint, but the process of defining Britain's new relationship with the EU as a non-member state is only just getting going.

We'll soon be back to the days of crunch talks, the prospect of no deal and the two sides locking horns.

What's different now though?

Boris Johnson has a huge majority and gone are the days of disunity in the Conservative party that we saw under Theresa May.

So the government is being forthright about what it wants from these negotiations - to pull away from the EU and form a new relationship with the bloc as other non-member states have already done.

We can already see where the flashpoints are likely to be.

But the Conservative manifesto promised a negotiated trade agreement this year - we'll see in the coming months how likely that's looking.

How far apart are the two sides?

Image source, Reuters/AFP/Getty
Image caption,
David Frost (l) and Michel Barnier (r) will lead the negotiating teams

Both sides agree that the UK will not undercut existing regulations on the environment, workers rights, competition and international tax principles.

But, says BBC Brussels reporter Adam Fleming, there are "some big obvious flashpoints".

'Dynamic alignment': The UK does not want to follow EU legislation as it is updated in the future. The EU is concerned about the UK gaining a competitive advantage.

State aid: The UK wants the freedom to subsidise domestic industries of its choice. Brussels wants state aid restrictions to continue "in perpetuity".

Governance: The EU wants a "blockbuster" agreement covering everything from fisheries, aviation, energy to immigration. The UK wants different deals in these areas.

Fishing: The UK wants quota deals like the EU has with Iceland or Norway. The EU wants continued access to UK waters.

The EU's 46-page negotiating document, published on Monday, indicated that the UK could be expected to keep aligned with changes to EU rules covering state subsidies for industry, environmental standards and workers' rights in future.

Any trade agreement "should uphold common high standards, and corresponding high standards over time with Union standards as a reference point", it added.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson told BBC News: "The whole objective of doing what we're doing is so the UK can do things differently and better."

He added: "All we want is mutual recognition of each other's high standards and access to each other's markets.

"We wouldn't ask the EU to follow every particular change in UK legislation so it doesn't make any sense for them to make the same requirement of us and that's where we are."

A Canada-style deal?

The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said Brussels is prepared to give the UK "super-preferential access" to the EU market of 450 million people.

But he said the UK has to accept alignment with EU rules as they develop to ensure fair competition with EU states, effectively ruling out a Canada-style deal.

"The UK says that it wants Canada. But the problem with that is that the UK is not Canada," Mr Barnier told an event at the European Parliament on Wednesday.

"This is because of Britain's proximity to the EU and the much larger trade volumes it has with the EU than with Canada."

Michael Gove, the minister in charge of delivering Brexit, hit back in his statement to MPs, saying: "Geography is no reason to undermine democracy.

"We will not be seeking to dynamically align with EU rules on EU terms governed by EU laws and EU institutions."

What are the opposition parties saying?

Labour's shadow Exiting the EU minister Paul Blomfield said the government's negotiating strategy was "frankly underwhelming".

He told MPs the government had a "cavalier disregard" for the consequences of failing to conclude a deal in the next 10 months and the uncertainty that would mean for business.

The Scottish National Party's Pete Wishart said: "This is nothing other than a routemap to the cherished no-deal - the real ambition of these Brexit zealots."

Critics say leaving without an agreement and going to World Trade Organisation rules - the terms countries use to set tariffs (taxes) on goods when they do not have free-trade deals - could damage the economy.

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