EU, Britain Intensify Talks On Post-Brexit Future

The flags of Britain (R) and the European Union flutter in front of the Chancellery in Berlin, where the British Prime Minister was expected on April 9, 2019. MICHELE TANTUSSI / AFP

 

The EU and Britain launch an intense five weeks of negotiations on a deal to define their post-Brexit relations on Monday, with London keen to wrap things up quickly.

The new round of talks in Brussels will be the first to be held face-to-face since the coronavirus shutdown combined with the two sides’ entrenched positions to stall progress.

The meetings will alternate weekly between Brussels and London throughout July and at the end of August, as the teams learned on Sunday, the British negotiator David Frost will be promoted to become Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s national security adviser.

Some commentators immediately suggested this could break the British side’s focus, but a UK spokesman insisted Frost’s new title does not mean he will be distracted from the ongoing discussions with his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier.

“David will remain chief negotiator for the EU talks until agreement is reached or until the talks end,” the official said.

“This will remain his first priority. As we have made clear we do not anyway wish these talks to run on into the autumn.”

– Intensification –

Hopes are that the intensification of the discussions will make it possible to deliver results after previous sessions, of mainly videolink talks, achieved little.

But tempers have flared in recent days and Johnson insisted on Saturday that Britain will accept the consequences of no deal if common ground cannot be found.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel — whose government takes over the presidency of the EU next week — has also sharpened her public stance, questioning whether London actually wants a deal.

READ ALSO: EU Trade Chief Hogan Drops Out Of WTO Race

“Of course it would be in the interest of Great Britain and all member states of the European Union to achieve an orderly withdrawal,” Merkel told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily.

“But that presupposes that both sides want this,” she added.

Britain left the EU on January 30 and a post-Brexit transition period in which it still benefits from de facto EU membership will come to an end on December 31.

Without a new agreement, the two sides would see ties reduced to minimum standards set by the World Trade Organization with high tariffs and serious disruptions to business.

London wants to agree on at least the bare bones of a trade deal this summer — at least politically, if not legally — in order to offer businesses clarity well before the end of the year.

The EU is less pressed for time and believes that the necessary ratification by the European Parliament and others would require a deal by late October.

“The faster we can reach an agreement, the better — and there’s no clear reason why the broad outline of a political agreement can’t be reached in the summer,” a Number 10 source told AFP.

– ‘Constructive, creative’ –

The format of talks on Monday will be more streamlined than the first rounds, which involved hundreds of civil servants fanned out into separate sessions on various topics.

From now on, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost will lead smaller teams with the political authority to break logjams.

“We will be constructive, as we have always been, and respectful, and we are ready to be creative to find common ground,” Barnier told the European Policy Centre in Brussels last week.

In a tweet, Frost said he was coming to Brussels in “good faith”.

But he warned: “This needs to be a real negotiation and some of the EU’s unrealistic positions will have to change if we are to move forward.”

The discussions will begin with a meeting between the two men at 0800 GMT and will continue throughout the week with short sessions on the most problematic topics.

These include the guarantees of fair competition demanded by the EU in fiscal, social or environmental matters in order to avoid the emergence of a low-regulation economy on Europe’s doorstep.

Other sore points are the role for the EU Court of Justice, access to British waters for European fishermen, as well as the form of the agreement.

This could be either a very broad deal covering all areas of the relationship, as the Europeans want, or a simple trade agreement with small sectoral side deals as sought by London.

AFP

Macron Marks De Gaulle’s Wartime Appeal With Britain Visit

Macron Signs Controversial French 'Anti-Rioters' Bill Into Law
France’s President Emmanuel Macron talks to journalists after a European Council meeting on Brexit at The Europa Building at The European Parliament in Brussels on April 11, 2019. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP.

 

French President Emmanuel Macron travels to Britain on Thursday to commemorate Charles de Gaulle’s call for resistance in World War II, against the very modern backdrop of grappling with Brexit and the coronavirus crisis.

Macron will hold talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a hugely symbolic visit that is his first foreign trip since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The visit marks 80 years since de Gaulle, the exiled wartime resistance leader, made his famous call on June 18, 1940, from BBC studios to a defeated France from London not to give into the Nazis.

Johnson has announced honorary British MBE awards to four surviving French resistance fighters — one aged 100 and three in their late 90s.

READ ALSO: EU Hopes US Pullout Of Digital Tax Talks Not ‘Definitive’

“The struggles we face today are different to those we confronted together 80 years ago,” Johnson said.

“But I have no doubt that -– working side by side -– the UK and France will continue to rise to every new challenge and seize every opportunity that lies ahead.”

– ‘Need to be careful’ –

But beyond the historic symbolism, Macron’s meeting with Johnson at 10 Downing Street will also focus on the grinding search for an agreement on Britain’s exit from the EU.

Britain, which left the EU in January, is negotiating a trade deal to govern relations after December 31, when it stops abiding by EU rules. Macron has on occasion expressed impatience with the drawn-out Brexit process.

Macron’s status as a visiting foreign dignitary will spare him the controversial two-week virus quarantine now demanded by the British authorities of all visitors from abroad.

France, where unlike in Britain cafes and restaurants are now fully open after the virus lockdown, had expected French travellers to be exempt from the rule.

“We just want to be very careful — yes, to open up, but to do so when it’s safe and responsible. So we’ll work through all of that with our French friends,” foreign minister Dominic Raab told BBC TV.

– ‘Proud of your courage’ –

Before heading to Britain, Macron met in Paris with Hubert Germain, 99, one of the four surviving Resistance heroes.

“Our country is proud of your courage and it still inspires us. We will make sure every young person knows what they owe you,” he told the veteran.

After arriving in Britain by air with a scaled-down delegation, Macron will meet heir to the throne Prince Charles in London, with both set to pay their respects to de Gaulle and make speeches.

A statue of Churchill that was controversially boxed up after anti-racism protests will be uncovered for Macron’s visit, the London mayor’s office said.

Macron will award the Legion of Honour to London, making it the seventh city to be decorated with France’s highest order of merit.

He will then head to Downing Street for the talks with Johnson, himself an avowed fan of Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill, who allowed de Gaulle to broadcast from the BBC.

The day will be given added poignancy by news of the death of British singer Vera Lynn, who famously who helped keep up morale during World War II. She was 103.

– ‘Nothing lost’ –

Macron, who displays de Gaulle’s war memoirs on his desk in his official photograph, is making much of 2020 as an anniversary year for the French resistance leader who would later become president of post-occupation France.

The general’s iconic stature and his defiant wartime spirit are being tapped into even more during the unprecedented challenges posed by the epidemic.

In a telling reflection of his status, the vandalisation of a de Gaulle bust in northern France this week was met with a torrent of outrage.

In his radio broadcast from London, de Gaulle urged all those who could to carry on fighting for France, words that laid the foundation of the resistance movement and helped keep alive hope that France would be liberated, as it finally was in 1944.

“Has the last word been said? Should hope disappear? Is the defeat final? No! Believe me, I… tell you that nothing is lost for France,” he said.

AFP

Britain, US Start Post-Brexit Trade Talks

The flags of Britain (R) and the European Union flutter in front of the Chancellery in Berlin, where the British Prime Minister was expected on April 9, 2019. MICHELE TANTUSSI / AFP.

 

Britain begins post-Brexit trade talks with the United States on Tuesday, with 100 negotiators on each side joining via videoconference.

Many in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government hope for a free trade agreement with Washington as one of the biggest benefits of leaving the European Union.

Officials said the first round of talks would last two weeks and cover issues such as goods and services trade, digital trade, investment and how to support small businesses.

The US ambassador to Britain, Woody Johnson, said the deal could “jumpstart the economy after we conquer coronavirus” — a message repeated by British officials.

“The US is our largest trading partner and increasing transatlantic trade can help our economies bounce back from the economic challenge posed by coronavirus,” International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said.

Bilateral trade was worth £220.9 billion ($275 billion, 252.6 billion euros) in the last year, and a free trade deal could increase this by £15.3 billion on 2018 levels, in the long run, the British government says.

Truss and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will kick off the talks before officials take over, with further rounds due at six-week intervals.

Britain voted in a referendum in June 2016 to leave the EU, and after years of politically wrangling finally quit on January 31 this year.

Its departure allowed Britain to start trade talks with other countries, including the US.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus Deaths Top 250,000 As Billions Raised For Vaccine Push

However, Britain remains in a transition period until December 31 that keeps its ties to the EU largely the same, to allow time for both sides to thrash out a new relationship.

Many in the EU had already warned of the difficulties of getting a trade deal with Britain by the end of the year.

The disruption of the coronavirus outbreak has prompted calls from some in Britain for the transition to be extended.

But Johnson, who led the 2016 “Leave” campaign and won a huge election victory in December promising to “Get Brexit Done”, has so far refused.

The latest round of UK-EU talks broke up on April 24 with little progress, stuck on key issues such as fishing rights, how to maintain common standards and the role of European judges.

A source close to the British negotiating team last week warned that “we’re talking past each other”, while expressing hope that a deal could be struck.

AFP

Brexit Talks Resume Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

An official hangs a Union Jack next to an European Union flag at EU Headquarters in Brussels on October 17, 2019, ahead of a European Union Summit on Brexit. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP.

 

British and EU officials were scheduled to restart Brexit trade talks Monday after a break because of the coronavirus, which is making an end-of-year deal look even more unlikely.

After a first round in early March negotiations were suspended for six weeks as officials focused on the deadly virus sweeping Europe.

The June deadline set by London to assess the chances of an agreement is now fast approaching.

The novel coronavirus has affected officials directly, hitting both EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart David Frost — and then, dramatically, putting Prime Minister Boris Johnson in intensive care.

Despite the ticking clock and the extra pressure brought by the worst global pandemic in living memory, Johnson’s government rules out extending Britain’s transition period to negotiate a future relationship with the EU.

Britain left the EU on January 31 but remains tied to it until the end of December.

Fears are growing that no deal will be reached, meaning that WTO rules with high tariffs and customs barriers would come into force between the UK and EU.

READ ALSO: Japan COVID-19 Cases Surge Over 10,000 With Hospitals Stretched

That prospect so alarmed the head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, that last week she urged Brussels and London to extend their deadline, saying it was in everyone’s interests to reduce uncertainty amid the economic turmoil wrought by the pandemic.

But Johnson has remained deaf to the appeal, despite Britain’s budget watchdog warning that the coronavirus lockdown could shrink the country’s economy by a massive 13 percent in 2020.

Double shock

Because of virus restrictions, this week’s talks will take place by videolink.

Fabian Zuleeg of the European Policy Centre warned there could be “no meaningful negotiations” at this point — because of the technical limitations of video talks and because politicians’ focus is on fighting the pandemic.

In these circumstances, it will probably be necessary to extend the deadline to avoid Britain crashing out with no deal and facing a further economic shock on top of the coronavirus recession, Zuleeg said.

“But so far, Brexit has never been about the best economic option. It very much depends on what price Boris Johnson is willing to pay for what is portrayed in the UK as ‘sovereignty’ and ‘independence’,” Zuleeg told AFP.

A European source close to the talks said a “Johnson Brexit” — sacrificing close links to the EU in order to be free of its rules — was already going to rattle the economy.

“With corona, it’s going to be a double shock for businesses,” the source told AFP.

The virus adds another layer of difficulty to an already complex negotiation, where, at the end of the first round in March, the two sides could only note their disagreements rather than make concrete progress.

London is trying to negotiate a series of packages in different domains including fishing, goods, aviation, justice and energy. But EU leaders want a single overarching accord.

The thorny problem of fishing rights — deeply important to several key EU states, notably France — could derail the whole process, according to some in Brussels.

This week’s round of talks are to last until Friday. Barnier and Frost were scheduled to open the proceedings on Monday before their teams start technical sector-by-sector negotiations on Tuesday.

AFP

EU, Britain Launch Tough Post-Brexit Relationship Talks

The flags of Britain (R) and the European Union flutter in front of the Chancellery in Berlin, where the British Prime Minister was expected on April 9, 2019. MICHELE TANTUSSI / AFP

 

British and EU trade negotiators held the first day of what could be months of talks aimed at forging a new post-Brexit relationship on Monday, with timing tight and the sides far apart on key issues.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and UK counterpart David Frost met in Brussels, launching several months of intense closed-door negotiations involving around 100 officials on each side.

“We approach these negotiations in a constructive spirit. We want to agree an ambitious and fair partnership,” Barnier tweeted after the talks, at which the negotiators did not shake hands because of fears of the novel coronavirus.

“We will respect our prior joint commitments. We will close the round on Thursday and I will debrief the press afterwards,” he said.

A UK spokesman said Frost and members the UK delegation met Barnier and his task force for around two hours.

“The UK will engage constructively to reach a free trade agreement which fully respects the UK’s political and regulatory autonomy,” he said.

The negotiations began just over a month after Britain left the EU, and are meant to wrap up by the end of this year — an exceedingly tight timeframe that few see as feasible for anything but a bare-bones accord.

The deadline is effectively December 31, the end of the UK’s current transition period during which it trades like an EU member with no tariffs or other barriers.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ruled out extending the transition and both sides are looking to an EU-UK summit in June to decide whether talks are worth continuing.

The negotiations have been clouded by mistrust and weeks of chest-beating as each side has accused the other of reneging on high-ambition goals set out in a political declaration struck last year.

This week’s talks in Brussels are to end on Thursday, after two days in which the teams will divide to cover 11 key topics for the future relationship. The next round is to take place in London, and thereafter alternate between the two capitals.

Mandates published last week highlighted the EU’s aim of securing a “level playing field” to prevent Britain from undercutting European standards on labour, tax, environment and state subsidies.

Meanwhile the UK is insisting on setting its own rules in the name of “economic and political independence”.

The acrimony pushed the British pound 1.3 percent lower against the euro on Monday owing to fears that Britain’s hard-line stance would hurt the economy.

 ‘Drift away’ 

Experts warned that the two sides are on a collision course, with a deal highly unlikely without concessions.

“A deal between the EU and the UK by the end of the year is still possible, but it will require both parties to drift away from their opening positions,” said Sam Lowe, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.

“In practice, it requires the UK to move a lot, and the EU to move a little,” he said.

Underlining tensions, Barnier, in an uncharacteristic display of podium-thumping, has warned Britain that any backsliding on its EU divorce terms would torpedo trade talks.

The Brexit deal notably requires checks on British goods crossing the Irish Sea into the UK territory of Northern Ireland that Johnson now says are unnecessary.

“Clearly, at the beginning of any negotiation, there’s a bit of posturing. Both sides want to state the strongest possible case,” said Fabian Zuleeg, head of the European Policy Centre.

Experts see a deal limited to goods as the most likely outcome, but that would still require customs checks for products crossing the Channel and lacks the ambition called for by businesses.

But fishing — of relatively minor economic importance but of totemic significance to Britain and EU states such as France and Spain — could be the flashpoint that scuppers a deal.

Barnier has emphasised that fishing is “inextricably” linked to the whole agreement. The EU demands that its fishing boats continue to have access to British waters in return for British fishermen being able to sell their catches to their biggest and closest market.

 Trade dependent 

If there is no broad trade deal, economic pain will be felt on both sides — but especially in Britain and in Ireland, the EU member most dependent on trade with the UK.

Without a deal, UN economists calculate the UK would lose export revenues of up to 29 billion euros ($32 billion) a year. The EU buys nearly half of all British exports.

AFP

UK Rejects EU Trade Demands, Threatens To Pull Out

The flags of Britain (R) and the European Union flutter in front of the Chancellery in Berlin, where the British Prime Minister was expected on April 9, 2019. MICHELE TANTUSSI / AFP.

 

Britain put the prospect of a chaotic Brexit back on the table on Thursday as it set out its red lines for trade talks with the European Union.

In its mandate for the negotiations that start on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government rebuffed EU demands for common trading standards and continued fishing rights.

And it warned it could walk away from the talks if a “broad outline” of a deal is not agreed by a meeting planned for June.

This would see Britain’s currently seamless trading arrangements with the EU, forged over half a century, abruptly end after a post-Brexit transition period expires in December.

“We want the best possible trading relationship with the EU, but in a pursuit of a deal, we will not trade away our sovereignty,” senior government minister Michael Gove told MPs.

The European Commission, which is negotiating on behalf of the EU’s 27 member states, said it was preparing for all scenarios.

“The commission maintains its capacity to prepare for no deal following the result of those negotiations,” spokeswoman Dana Spinant said.

She added that the mid-year meeting was “a very fair timeline” to take stock of whether a deal was possible.

– No alignment –

Britain left the EU on January 31, but both sides agreed to a standstill transition period lasting until December 31 to allow time to strike a new partnership.

Johnson wants a free trade agreement similar to the EU’s deal with Canada, set alongside separate agreements on issues such as fishing, energy and aviation.

But Brussels says Britain’s geographical proximity and existing close ties make it a different case, fearing it could gain an uncompetitive advantage by relaxing costly environmental and labour laws.

It says Britain must mirror EU standards if it wants to continue freely trading goods with the bloc’s huge single market.

However, Johnson argues this would undermine the whole point of Brexit, even if that means increased barriers with what is currently Britain’s largest trading partner.

“We will not agree to any obligations for our laws to be aligned with the EU’s,” the official UK mandate says.

Brussels also wants its state aid rules to apply in the UK — something London rejects.

Another potential flashpoint is financial services, a key concern for Britain that it wants resolved by June to allow firms to keep working in the EU after December 31.

The European Commission spokeswoman refused to commit the EU to completing so-called equivalence assessments by June.

In the British parliament, opposition politicians decried the government’s hard line approach.

“This is nothing other than a routemap to the cherished no-deal — the real ambition of these Brexit zealots,” said Scottish National Party MP Pete Wishart.

– Fishing rights –

Tensions were already high between Britain and the EU ahead of the first round of negotiations.

On Tuesday, when the bloc published its mandate, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said he would not strike a deal “at any price”.

Some EU ministers have also warned London against backtracking on commitments made in the previous Brexit divorce agreement, particularly relating to the Irish border.

One crucial issue for both sides in the upcoming negotiations is fishing rights.

Fishing became a totemic issue in the 2016 referendum campaign on Britain’s EU membership, which Johnson led.

But it is also vital for many EU countries, notably France, where fish and seafood caught in UK waters account 30 percent of sales for fishermen.

Brussels wants to maintain the right of its fleets to fish in UK waters, warning that failure to agree on this could scupper the wider trade talks.

But Gove warned: “We will take back control of our waters as an independent coastal state and we will not link access to our waters to access to EU markets.”

London proposes instead that fishing opportunities be negotiated annually, based on stock levels.

AFP

Brexit: EU Envoys Finalise Mandate For UK Negotiations

An official hangs a Union Jack next to an European Union flag at EU Headquarters in Brussels on October 17, 2019, ahead of a European Union Summit on Brexit. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

EU envoys on Monday finalised a mandate for chief negotiator Michel Barnier to lead what promise to be stormy talks with Britain on its future relations with the bloc starting next week.

The text, setting out the European Union’s demands and red lines, is to be formally adopted Tuesday at a meeting of the bloc’s ministers.

Britain is working on its own negotiating mandate, which it is expected to be published on Thursday.

Britain ceased to be part of the EU at the end of last month under the terms of a Brexit deal that ushered in a transition period for the big negotiations to take place on trade, security and defence.

The extent to which Britain will align with EU rules on environmental, labour, health, taxation and other standards is set to be one of the thorniest issues.

One EU source told AFP that the ambassadors adopted the mandate by consensus, adding: “It’s good news.”

The text “specifies that the agreement should allow us to have fair competition conditions over the long term,” the source added.

Another source said the mandate was “clarified on all necessary points”.

– Playing hardball –

Both London and Brussels have employed increasingly tough rhetoric in recent weeks.

Barnier, who has stood firm on EU positions, declined Monday to be drawn on the latest skirmish: a UK newspaper report alleging that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was seeking to undermine the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

He told AFP he believed and hoped that deal would be “respected by the United Kingdom — I don’t have any reason to think otherwise”.

The Sunday Times report, citing an unnamed British government “senior source”, said Johnson’s negotiating team was looking at ways aimed at “not obeying the Northern Ireland protocol” in the Brexit deal.

That protocol requires checks on goods between Britain and its Northern Ireland territory in the interest of maintaining economic integrity between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

The measure effectively puts a border for goods in the Irish Sea.

Johnson has repeatedly insisted that no checks would be needed, while his office said the UK “will comply with our obligations” under the withdrawal agreement.

On the other side of the table, France took the lead in injecting hardball conditions into successive drafts of the EU negotiating mandate.

Drafts of the text insist on a “level playing field” that “will stand the test of time”. That essentially demands Britain maintains standards equal to European ones, even if they change in the future.

That speaks to EU fears that Britain might try for a competitive edge by doing away with costly environmental, labour and tax norms.

It also says the EU alone will determine what British financial services will be deemed equivalent enough to be offered in the bloc.

And it says EU fishing boats should continue to be able to have access to British waters.

With Britain threatening to walk away and instead trade on only the most basic terms with the EU if necessary, the result of the negotiations — due to start next week and be completed by the end of the year — is uncertain.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned at the weekend he was “not sure” a deal would be struck by the end of December.

– No extension –

A “no deal” Brexit, with its heavy implications for the UK economy, does not seem to frighten the British government.

Johnson is asking for a simplified deal similar to those the EU has struck with Canada, Japan and South Korea that reduce tariff barriers to near zero, but which have less strict controls on standards.

“There is no reason that our proximity to the EU should mean extra restrictions on trade,” his spokesman said Monday.

“Proximity is not a determining factor in other FTAs (free trade agreements) between other neighbouring states with large economies.”

He insisted: “We will not accept alignment with the EU.”

London has until the end of June to ask for a deadline extension should the talks fail to make headway in the coming months.

But Johnson has ruled out asking for more time, a stance that raises the prospects of a “no deal” or only a bare-bones deal which could also bring major disruption.

AFP

British PM Plans Post-Brexit Cabinet Reshuffle

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will shake up his top team on Thursday in his first cabinet reshuffle since taking Britain out of the European Union, his office said on Tuesday.

The Conservative leader had held off from a ministerial revamp in the wake of the December election, preferring instead to wait until Brexit was delivered on January 31.

“On Thursday, the prime minister is expected to carry out a reshuffle of his ministerial team,” his spokesman said on Tuesday.

He will then hold a meeting of his new-look cabinet on Friday.

After years of political turmoil over Brexit, Johnson wants to focus on domestic issues, including his promise to “level up” the country by creating more opportunities around Britain, not just in London.

After his comfortable election win, Johnson was said to be preparing a major reorganisation of government departments and to slash the number of ministers at his top table to try to streamline decision-making.

But something more modest is expected this week, with key figures such as finance minister Sajid Javid and foreign minister Dominic Raab expected to stay.

Johnson is also expected to announce the new president of the COP 26 UN climate summit, which is being held in Glasgow in November after the incumbent was sacked last month.

The BBC confronted Johnson’s top advisor Dominic Cummings about the cabinet reshuffle. He said only: “PJ Masks will do a greater job than all of them put together.”

One political journalist responded on Twitter: “PJ Masks is a cartoon about a bunch of juvenile weirdos and misfits doing a job in lieu of paid government officials. It’s all suddenly falling into place.”

AFP

Post-Brexit: EU To Offer Britain ‘Ambitious Trade Deal’

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier gestures during a press conference on negotiations with UK on on February 3, 2020. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier gestures during a press conference on negotiations with UK on on February 3, 2020.
Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

The European Union will offer Britain a close post-Brexit trading relationship but demand tough terms on fisheries and a level playing field for businesses, chief negotiator Michel Barnier said Monday.

“We are ready to offer a highly ambitious trade deal as the central pillar of this partnership, including zero tariffs,” Barnier said, but warned Brussels would not accept “unfair competitive advantages”.

Barnier was unveiling his negotiating mandate ahead of talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government on the EU’s future relations with Britain after the post-Brexit transition period.

Separately, his boss, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said the talks should stick to what had already been agreed in a pre-Brexit political declaration between the two sides.

“There will be no surprises. We outlined with the UK already the future parameters we will have in our negotiations in the withdrawal agreement,” she said.

Johnson was expected to present Britain’s negotiating position later Monday. Reports from London suggested he will warn that Britain seeks the right to diverge from EU rule-making.

If that was the case, von der Leyen said, Britain must not expect unlimited access to the EU market.

“The closer the UK wants to be, the easier the access to the single market. But nothing comes for free. So access to the single market is of high value, it’s the largest single market in the world. It’s of utmost importance, and therefore I think it’s only a matter of fairness to also play by the rules,” she said.

Barnier told reporters that disagreement over fishing was likely to be the first and most serious division. British fishermen want to bar EU counterparts from their waters, but want to keep the EU as their main market for fish exports.

“We must now agree on specific and effective guarantees to ensure a level playing field over the long term,” Barnier said.

“That means a mechanism to uphold the high standards we have on social, environmental, climate, tax and state aid matters today and in their future developments,” he warned.

“Our free trade agreement must include an agreement on fisheries. This agreement should provide for continued reciprocal access to markets and to waters with stable quota shares.”

 

AFP

How Boris Johnson Delivered Brexit Deal

British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson speaks on Brexit at his residence on 10, Downing Street, London. Credit: AFP

 

Even for a maverick politician like Boris Johnson, backing Brexit four years ago was a huge gamble. But as Britain prepares to leave the European Union next week, it has paid off spectacularly.

The Conservative leader remains a divisive figure, hailed by many for his optimism and humour, accused by others of Trump-style populism and a blatant disregard for the truth.

But his name will be written in the history books for leading the campaign for Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum, and then, as prime minister, finally making it happen.

Negotiating a new trade deal with Brussels is likely to be an even greater challenge, but for now, the former London mayor is riding high.

 Early ambition 

For a man who as a child wanted to be “world king”, this moment of triumph has been a long time coming.

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born in New York in 1964 into a high-achieving family.

He spent his early years in Brussels, where his father worked for the EU, then attended the elite Eton school in England before studying classics at Oxford University.

He first worked as a journalist for The Times, where he was sacked for making up a quote, and moved on to become Brussels correspondent for the right-wing Daily Telegraph newspaper.

There he made his name by writing about “Euro-myths” — exaggerated claims about the EU.

He came to public prominence in the 1990s as a guest panellist on a satirical television show, where his eccentric and self-deprecating wit made him a national figure known just as “Boris”.

His first few years in politics did not go smoothly — in 2004, he was sacked from the Conservatives’ shadow cabinet for lying about an extra-marital affair.

But in 2008 he was elected mayor of multicultural, Labour-voting London, an achievement commentators put down to his unconventional style.

 Stoking controversy 

Johnson is not like other politicians, with his messy blond hair, jokey style and willingness to make himself look ridiculous — notably once getting stuck on a zip wire brandishing British flags.

He also differed from many of his Conservative colleagues with his pro-migration and socially liberal views, which resonated in London.

However, he has faced accusations of prejudice in his news columns over the years, describing gay men as “bumboys” and black African Commonwealth citizens as “piccaninnies”.

As recently as 2018, he drew criticism for writing that Muslim women in the full veil looked like “letterboxes”, even while he argued that they should be free to wear what they want.

But Johnson rejects accusations of racism, while supporters say he simply likes to stir things up.

In last month’s snap general election, he also proved he could still appeal to a broad range of voters by securing the Conservatives’ best result since the 1980s heyday of Margaret Thatcher.

With his promise to “Get Brexit Done”, be tough on law and order and invest in public services, he took back working-class seats that his party had not held for decades.

Brexit promises 

Johnson is known for his colourful private life. He is twice married, is believed to have five children — one from an affair — and currently lives with his girlfriend in Downing Street.

But his celebrity status has allowed him to shrug off scandals that would have destroyed many others.

More damaging have been questions about his competence, with a two-year stint as foreign minister after Brexit widely viewed as underwhelming.

The family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman held in Tehran for alleged sedition, say he jeopardised her case by misdescribing her job.

After becoming prime minister in July last year, however, he defied his critics by renegotiating the terms of Brexit that MPs had rejected three times.

“Those who did not take him seriously were wrong,” French President Emmanuel Macron said at the time.

Johnson still stands accused of brushing over the difficulties of untangling Britain’s EU membership, but dismisses his critics as “doomsters”.

He may face his most difficult task yet in negotiating a new trading relationship with Brussels, as well as with the United States.

And with the EU exit secured, and a bulging in-tray of domestic issues, the prime minister must now show he can deliver more than Brexit.

AFP

Queen Elizabeth II Approves Government’s Brexit Bill

 

Queen Elizabeth II gave her formal assent Thursday for Britain to end its decades-long involvement in the European Union and seek a more independent but uncertain future at the end of the month.

The head of state’s ceremonial approval of the withdrawal legislation allows Britain to leave its closest neighbours and trading partners after years of bickering and three delays.

Two top EU officials in Brussels are expected to sign the separation treaty on Friday and Prime Minister Boris Johnson — the pro-Brexit figurehead of Britain’s seismic 2016 referendum — will put his name on it in the coming days.

“At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it,” Johnson said after both houses of the British parliament ratified the withdrawal bill on Wednesday.

“Now we can put the rancour and division of the past three years behind us and focus on delivering a bright, exciting future.”

The January 31 split caps a remarkable political comeback for Johnson at one of the most difficult points in Britain’s post-war history.

He quit former prime minister Theresa May’s government in 2018 in protest at what he viewed as her pro-European separation terms.

Johnson returned as May’s successor in July last year and has since managed to negotiate his own deal with Brussels and regain the government’s control of parliament in a risky early election last month.

The rest was a formality. Lawmakers barely debated the withdrawal agreement before passing it — even though critics called it worse for Britain than the one reached by May.

Johnson will celebrate his victory by issuing commemorative coins and chairing a special cabinet meeting in England’s pro-Brexit north on January 31.

‘Absolute priority’

Johnson will now be responsible for defining the terms on which Britain trades and shares everything from data to fishing waters with the remaining 27 EU member states.

The formal talks are not expected to begin until March but the war of words is already intense.

Johnson rejects EU arguments that the end-of-year negotiations deadline is too short to reach a comprehensive deal.

The UK government is also demanding the post-Brexit right to set its own rules on politically sensitive issues such as environmental standards and workers’ rights.

EU officials say this will give Britain an unfair advantage and are threatening to retaliate with tariffs and quotas that could hit the UK auto and pharmaceutical industries especially hard.

European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde said the bloc’s financial system was ready for the next stage.

“There can always be a risk somewhere,” she said in Frankfurt. “But I think in good conscience we have covered everything that we thought was necessary.”

Some analysts believe Johnson is prepared to pay the price of short-term economic damage in order to deliver on pledge to “get Brexit done”.

He argues that greater flexibility will help him reach a quick post-Brexit agreement with the United States and other nations that are growing much faster than those in Europe.

US officials say they are eager to strike a deal with Johnson.

An agreement “is an absolute priority for President (Donald) Trump and we expect to complete that with them this year,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said ahead of his arrival in London this weekend.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross added that Johnson would have an easier time with Washington than Brussels because “there are far fewer issues between the UK and US.”

Johnson is expected to lay out his vision for the post-Brexit agreement with Brussels in a big policy address early next month.

“Once we have left the EU in just over a week’s time we’ll be free to start having discussions with countries around the world including the US,” Downing Street said Wednesday.

Queen Elizabeth II Approves Brexit Bill

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II attends the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in London on March 11, 2019.  Richard Pohle / POOL / AFP

 

Queen Elizabeth II gave her formal assent Thursday for Britain to end its decades-long involvement in the European Union and seek a more independent but uncertain future at the end of the month.

The head of state’s ceremonial approval of the withdrawal legislation allows Britain to leave its closest neighbours and trading partners after years of bickering and three delays.

Two top EU officials in Brussels are expected to sign the separation treaty on Friday and Prime Minister Boris Johnson — the pro-Brexit figurehead of Britain’s seismic 2016 referendum — will put his name on it in the coming days.

“At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it,” Johnson said after both houses of the British parliament ratified the withdrawal bill on Wednesday.

“Now we can put the rancour and division of the past three years behind us and focus on delivering a bright, exciting future.”

The January 31 split caps a remarkable political comeback for Johnson at one of the most difficult points in Britain’s post-war history.

He quit former prime minister Theresa May’s government in 2018 in protest at what he viewed as her pro-European separation terms.

Johnson returned as May’s successor in July last year and has since managed to negotiate his own deal with Brussels and regain the government’s control of parliament in a risky early election last month.

The rest was a formality. Lawmakers barely debated the withdrawal agreement before passing it — even though critics called it worse for Britain than the one reached by May.

Johnson will celebrate his victory by issuing commemorative coins and chairing a special cabinet meeting in England’s pro-Brexit north on January 31.

 ‘Absolute priority’ 

Johnson will now be responsible for defining the terms on which Britain trades and shares everything from data to fishing waters with the remaining 27 EU member states.

The formal talks are not expected to begin until March but the war of words is already intense.

Johnson rejects EU arguments that the end-of-year negotiations deadline is too short to reach a comprehensive deal.

The UK government is also demanding the post-Brexit right to set its own rules on politically sensitive issues such as environmental standards and workers’ rights.

EU officials say this will give Britain an unfair advantage and are threatening to retaliate with tariffs and quotas that could hit the UK auto and pharmaceutical industries especially hard.

European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde said the bloc’s financial system was ready for the next stage.

“There can always be a risk somewhere,” she said in Frankfurt. “But I think in good conscience we have covered everything that we thought was necessary.”

Some analysts believe Johnson is prepared to pay the price of short-term economic damage in order to deliver on the pledge to “get Brexit done”.

He argues that greater flexibility will help him reach a quick post-Brexit agreement with the United States and other nations that are growing much faster than those in Europe.

US officials say they are eager to strike a deal with Johnson.

An agreement “is an absolute priority for President (Donald) Trump and we expect to complete that with them this year,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said ahead of his arrival in London this weekend.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross added that Johnson would have an easier time with Washington than Brussels because “there are far fewer issues between the UK and US.”

Johnson is expected to lay out his vision for the post-Brexit agreement with Brussels in a big policy address early next month.

“Once we have left the EU in just over a week’s time we’ll be free to start having discussions with countries around the world including the US,” Downing Street said Wednesday.

AFP