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Boris Johnson to put UK on collision course with EU over trade

The EU said that no deal will be possible unless Britain signs up to so-called level playing field provisions meant to ensure it doesn’t gain a competitive advantage. But Johnson’s office made clear only full independence will do — and insisted the premier would walk away and trade with the UK’s closest markets without a formal deal if necessary.

Bloomberg|
Last Updated: Feb 27, 2020, 11.43 PM IST
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Boris Johnson (File Pic)
LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson will put the UK on collision course with the European Union on Thursday when he lays out his government’s red lines before talks start on a post-Brexit trade agreement next week.

The EU said on Tuesday that no deal will be possible unless Britain signs up to so-called level playing field provisions meant to ensure it doesn’t gain a competitive advantage by undercutting the bloc’s regulations. But Johnson’s office made clear only full independence will do — and insisted the premier would walk away and trade with the UK’s closest markets without a formal deal if necessary.

“At the end of this year we will regain in full our political and economic independence,” the prime minister’s spokesman James Slack told reporters. The UK wants a free-trade agreement similar to the one Canada has with the EU, but he said a looser arrangement like Australia — which has no FTA with the bloc — would “be OK as well,” though he conceded there would be “some friction”.

Britain’s position leaves the two sides facing a fundamental clash. It’s a red line for the EU that the UK should sign up to European rules on fair competition and officials in Brussels are likely to regard Johnson’s rejection of this as a betrayal of commitments he made in the negotiations on the divorce agreement last year.

Johnson’s government is expecting tensions with the bloc over competition and state aid rules, according to a UK official. It also expects difficulties over fisheries — a contentious issue that EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said this week must be resolved before a deal can be struck. Brexiteers in Johnson’s Conservative Party argued during and after the 2016 Brexit referendum that a trade deal with the bloc would be straightforward because both sides start from the same point in terms of rules and regulations.

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