Fears over Brexit plot to tie UK into rolling trade talks – for ever

The Mail on Sunday - - News - By Harry Cole DEPUTY PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

BRI­TISH ne­go­tia­tors fear a com­pro­mise plan mooted by UK Min­is­ters and EU cap­i­tals will lead to ‘rolling trade talks with Brus­sels for­ever’, The Mail on Sun­day has learnt.

In­ten­si­fied ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Lon­don and the EU are due to start this evening as both sides hope to in­ject mo­men­tum into the talks about the UK’s fu­ture trade re­la­tion­ship with the bloc.

For the first time since the Covid19 cri­sis, the talks will take place face- to- face in Brus­sels, with a team of 20 Bri­tish ne­go­tia­tors due to ar­rive to­day.

In the lat­est round of talks, Bri­tain’s Brexit boss David Frost has been tasked with ‘ stran­gling’ a fledg­ling plan that would see Bri­tain ‘stand still’ on cur­rent EU rules and red tape but have to ne­go­ti­ate tar­iffs on cer­tain goods in the fu­ture if the UK wishes to di­verge away from the Brus­sels rules.

EU chiefs and lead­ers are de­ter­mined to bind Bri­tain to so-called ‘level play­ing field’ mea­sures to dampen a com­pet­i­tive edge af­ter we leave the EU Sin­gle Mar­ket and Cus­toms Union on De­cem­ber 31 amid fears dereg­u­la­tion from Brus­sels rules will make the UK more at­trac­tive to in­ter­na­tional busi­ness.

How­ever, the UK has re­peat­edly re­fused to en­gage on this idea in talks so far and pub­licly ruled any such mea­sures. But Min­is­ters at odds with No 10 be­lieve some com­pro­mise will have to be found to avoid talks col­laps­ing.

This new com­pro­mise idea has been dis­cussed in both White­hall and other EU cap­i­tals, but it is feared the fiendishly com­plex no­tion would see the UK stuck in end­less rolling ne­go­ti­a­tions with the EU in per­pe­tu­ity.

Mr Frost took to so­cial me­dia last week to dis­tance Lon­don from the idea, de­spite Govern­ment sources ad­mit­ting the plan had been stud­ied in re­cent weeks.

He wrote: ‘I want to be clear that the Govern­ment will not agree to ideas like the one cur­rently cir­cu­lat­ing giv­ing the EU a new right to re­tal­i­ate with tar­iffs if we chose to make laws suit­ing our in­ter­ests.

‘ We could not leave our­selves open to such un­fore­see­able eco­nomic risk.’ How­ever, last night sources within Mr Frost’s Task­force Europe team ac­cepted that Brus­sels may for­mally ta­ble the plan dur­ing talks, and it would have to be ‘seen off’ in of­fi­cial talks.

One Govern­ment source said: ‘They can try but we are not hav­ing any of it.’

The tra­di­tional eve-of-talks sabre rat­tling be­gan in earnest this week­end, with An­gela Merkel hit­ting out on Fri­day, say­ing that Bri­tain must ac­cept the con­se­quences of walking away from the EU.

The Ger­man Chan­cel­lor said the UK will ‘ have to live with the con­se­quences, of course, that is to say with a less closely in­ter­con­nected econ­omy’.

Yes­ter­day, Mr John­son hit back in a phone call with his Pol­ish coun­ter­part, warn­ing Bri­tain would walk away without a trade deal in place un­less Brus­sels shifts. And last night Boris John­son told The

Mail on Sun­day he hoped for a swift res­o­lu­tion, adding: ‘There is the ba­sis of a deal there.’

The PM added: ‘One of the great things about Brexit is that we can do things dif­fer­ently, in­clud­ing an op­por­tu­nity for us to sell more of our amaz­ing prod­ucts around the world. The re­al­ity i s that our friends un­der­stand that we are ab­so­lutely se­ri­ous on jus­tice, level play­ing field and fish.’

Last night, Mr Frost warned that move­ment was needed swiftly, aft er hi s coun­ter­part Michel Barnier hinted that Brus­sels may hold out un­til the au­tumn for a break­through.

He said: ‘Ne­go­ti­a­tions over the next few weeks won’t be easy. There are still fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences be­tween our po­si­tions and a new process in it­self isn’t enough to breach the gap.

‘Any deal must re­flect our wellestab­lished po­si­tion on dif­fi­cult is­sues such as the so-called “level play­ing field” and fish­eries – that is, as an in­de­pen­dent coun­try we will have con­trol over our laws and our waters.

‘Our sovereignt­y will never be up for ne­go­ti­a­tion.’

‘The EU un­der­stands that we’re ab­so­lutely se­ri­ous’

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