Brexit trade battle kicks off: Britain demands to be treated as an ‘equal’ after France warns the two sides will ‘rip each other apart’
- The UK and the EU are gearing up for bitter struggle over trade terms after Brexit
- France has warned that the two sides will ‘rip each other apart’ over key issues
- UK envoy David Frost is making his first major speech in Brussels tonight
The Brexit trade battle kicked off for real today as Britain demanded to be treated as an ‘equal’ – and France warned that the two sides are set to ‘rip each other apart’.
The UK is laying down the gauntlet in what is set to be a tough speech by envoy David Frost in Brussels this evening.
He is expected to hammer home the message that Boris Johnson would rather accept a looser trade pact than compromise control – stressing that the relationship must be between ‘sovereign equals’.
The hard line comes after the French foreign minister teed up a bitter struggle over key issue such as fishing rights.
Jean-Yves le Drian said it would be hard to achieve Britain’s aim of agreeing a free trade deal by the end of the year as the sides have starkly different positions.
Britain’s EU negotiator David Frost (left) will make a speech in Brussels tonight hammering home the message that Boris Johnson (right in Downing Street last week) would rather accept a looser trade pact than compromise control
Jean-Yves le Drian, speaking at a Munich security conference, said: ‘I think that on trade issues and the mechanism for future relations, which we are going to start on, we are going to rip each other apart’
London and Brussels have already clashed over rules for British financial firms’ access to the EU after Brexit.
Retailers have already warned that consumers will face higher costs and reduced availability of goods if a free trade deal is not reached by the end of the year.
Britain formally left the EU two weeks ago but will is still covered by the bloc’s trade rule during a transition period, which lasts until the end of the year.
Speaking at a Munich security conference, Mr Le Drian said: ‘I think that on trade issues and the mechanism for future relations, which we are going to start on, we are going to rip each other apart. But that is part of negotiations, everyone will defend their own interests.’
The remaining 27 member states are currently drawing up their mandate for the talks on the future relationship, with France in particular pushing for a strong stance – notably on fishing.
France and several other countries want to keep fishing in British waters, while London wants full autonomy and limited access for European fishermen. ‘Let’s hope the talks are done as quickly as possible, but there are a lot of issues and some difficult points to deal with,’ said Mr Le Drian, who is from the fishing region of Brittany.
The bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said the EU’s top priorities are fishing, security and maintaining fair trading conditions for European companies.
In his speech tonight, Mr Frost will call for the UK to get the same terms as Canada, South Korea and Japan.
He will say Britain does not want a special, bespoke or unique deal but one that includes the benefits offered to other countries.
A Government spokesman said: ‘We want a relationship based on friendly co-operation between sovereign equals, one centred on free trade and inspired by our shared history and values.’
The British Retail Consortium last night pointed out that almost 80 per cent of all food imported by UK retailers comes from within the EU, making the negotiations particularly important for these essential goods.
The bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said the EU’s top priorities are fishing, security and maintaining fair trading conditions for European companies. A fishing boat is pictured above in the English channel
It said there was no possibility of a return to frictionless trade under the Government’s present negotiating stance.
It also called for action to mitigate this, including a zero-tariff trade deal, co-ordination on VAT, customs and excise procedures, and advance information on new checks and paperwork.
Helen Dickinson, the consortium’s chief executive, said the Government must ‘set about to negotiate a zero-tariff agreement that minimises checks and red tape’.