Brussels will host the first round of trade negotiations with Britain as eurocrats secured an early victory over Boris Johnson.
Michel Barnier demanded both sides’ opening salvos be presented in the Belgian capitals when formal talks begin on the first week of March. It is understood the Government was happy to concede to the bloc but has insisted London will host later rounds. Boris Johnson has demanded negotiations are shared between Whitehall and the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters.
He wants future talks to represent that two sovereign equals are attempting to forge a future relationship.
During divorce talks, the Commission demanded that the entire of the UK’s EU Withdrawal Agreement was penned in Brussels.
The Prime Minister’s chief negotiator, David Frost, yesterday met with his opposite numbers to hammer out the details.
Britain will publish its own set of negotiating guidelines next week to set out positions ahead of the start of the trade talks.
Mr Frost’s Task Force Europe, a team of 40 civil servants tasked with negotiating the trade deal, wants to hold a series of parallel talks.
They want to use the simultaneous negotiations to conclude pacts in separate areas – such as financial services, trade in goods and security.
There are some concerns in London that Michel Barnier’s negotiating team aren’t willing to work at the required pace to seal a deal by the end of Brexit transition period after December.
During a speech in Brussels last night, Mr Frost said the EU must understand that the Prime Minister is willing to walk away from talks if the bloc continues to make too many demands.
He said: “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.”
The UK negotiator suggested EU chiefs failed to grasp that their opening demands were an unacceptable threat to UK sovereignty.
And he said Mr Johnson would not compromise on his insistence that the Brexit transition period must end on December 31, whether or not a free trade deal has been agreed.
In a swipe at senior Brussels bureaucrats, Mr Frost said: “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?
He said the UK wanted a deal similar to those with Canada, Japan and South Korea.