Britain told the EU tonight it was not possible to accept Brussels’ rules as part of a free trade deal because it would undermine ‘the whole project’ of Brexit.
In a brutal assessment of the UK bargaining position, Boris Johnson’s new Brexit negotiator David Frost said the UK would rather walk away from talks than accept anything that interfered with ‘the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country’.
The EU is insisting that there can be no ‘divergence’ from its rules and regulations in areas including financial services and agriculture.
But Mr Frost used a speech in the Belgian capital this evening to warn that the hardline position against this already espoused by the Prime Minister was not just posturing.
He also added that the UK is ‘ready for an ‘Australia-style’ free trade agreement with the bloc if its member states continue to have doubts about the terms of a no-quotas, no-tariffs deal
And he pointed out that if the UK and EU roles were reversed and the EU was forced to follow Westminster laws ‘democratic consent would snap – dramatically and finally’.
Mr Frost told students and academics at the Université libre de Bruxelles: ‘We bring to the negotiations not some clever tactical positioning but the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country.
‘It is central to our vision that we must have the ability to set laws that suit us – to claim the right that every other non-EU country in the world has.
David Frost said the UK would rather walk away from talks than accept anything that interfered with ‘the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country’
French foreign minister Jean-Yves le Drian predicted a bruising battle on a post-Brexit deal in a speech at the annual Munich Security Conference at the weekend
‘So to think that we might accept EU supervision on so called level playing field issues simply fails to see the point of what we are doing.
‘It isn’t a simple negotiating position which might move under pressure – it is the point of the whole project.
‘That’s also why we will not extend the transition beyond the end of this year. At that point we recover our political and economic independence in full – why would we want to postpone it?
‘In short, we only want what other independent countries have.’
His defiant speech came after French foreign minister Jean-Yves le Drian predicted a bruising battle on a post-Brexit deal.
Speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference, he made clear that Brussels will defend its interests when negotiations begin next month.
‘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,’ he said.
‘But that is part of negotiations, everyone will defend their own interests.’
Mr le Drian, a close ally of president Emmanuel Macron, is the latest senior EU figure to warn that the negotiations will be difficult.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and chief negotiator Michel Barnier have both cast doubt on Boris Johnson’s aim to reach a comprehensive agreement by the end of the year when the Brexit transition period runs out.
The EU has repeatedly warned Britain cannot expect to enjoy continued ‘high-quality’ market access if it insists on diverging from EU social and environmental standards.
There is expected to be a particularly tough fight over fishing rights, with the EU insisting continued access to UK waters must form part of any agreement.
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
Mr Johnson, in turn, has said the UK will act as an ‘independent coastal state’ taking control of its own fisheries.
He used a speech in Greenwich at the start of the month to insist there is no need to tie the UK to Brussels regulations, or vice versa, as he condemned growing protectionism around the world.
Arguing that he wants to be a champion of free trade now Brexit has happened, Mr Johnson dismissed claims that Britain will undercut social and environmental standards – saying it was often ahead of the bloc.
The defiant stance – in a 30-minute speech in which the premier notably declined to use the word ‘Brexit’ – came minutes after the EU’s negotiator Michel Barnier warned that Britain will only get a ‘best in class’ trade deal if it bows to demands on a ‘level playing field’ and access to fishing waters.
Mr Frost said tonight: ‘Boris Johnson’s speech in Greenwich two weeks ago set out a record of consistently high standards of regulation and behaviour in the UK, in many cases better than EU norms or practice.
‘How would you feel if the UK demanded that, to protect ourselves, the EU dynamically harmonise with our national laws set in Westminster and the decisions of our own regulators and courts?
‘The more thoughtful would say that such an approach would compromise the EU’s sovereign legal order; that there would be no democratic legitimacy in the EU for the decisions taken in the UK to which the EU would be bound; and that such regulations and regulatory decisions are so fundamental to the way the population of a territory feels bound into the legitimacy of its government, that this structure would be simply unsustainable: at some point democratic consent would snap – dramatically and finally.
The Liberal Democrats accused the Government of pursuing a ‘scorched earth policy with the EU.
Speaking ahead of the speech, acting leader Ed Davey said: ‘Boris Johnson should listen to the views of British businesses who want to maintain the closest possible alignment with the European Union.
The UK is not South Korea or Canada and people do not want lower standards.’