Boris Johnson will make setting Britain free from Brussels rules and regulations his top aim in the forthcoming EU trade negotiations, Downing Street said. In a significant toughening of the Government stance ahead the talks on a future trade deal, officials said the Prime Minister is to make “taking back control” from the bloc and ending the meddling of EU courts his non-negotiable “red line”.
He will refuse to accept any deal that compromises the country’s “political and economic independence”, according to Whitehall insiders. Number 10’s unequivocal warning comes ahead of a crunch meeting of EU ministers today to try to settle on chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s mandate for the trade wrangle due to begin next month.
Mr Johnson is understood to be preparing a “robust” response following expectations that they will make demands for a “level playing field” on rule and regulations central to their opening gambit.
In a sign of rising tensions, French Europe minister Amélie de Montchalin, below, accused the UK of attempting to “blackmail” the EU into accepting a poor deal.
The Prime Minister will chair a meeting of his key EU Exit Strategy Committee of Cabinet ministers – known as the “XS Committee – to approve the Government’s objectives from the trade talks.
Ahead of the meeting, a senior Government source said: “Our key point throughout all of this will be firstly our overriding objective in the negotiations is by January 1 to have said we have taken back full control and we won’t agree to anything which doesn’t deliver that.
”That means no rule taking from the EU and no role for the ECJ. That is the test we will be judged against on January 1.”
Setting out the Prime Minister’s non-negotiable demands, the source added: “Our red line is we have to have taken back full control by January 1 and that means no rule taking and no European Court of Justice. Independence and fully taking back control is the priority.”
While Mr Johnson’s most preferred outcome was a free trade deal based on Canada’s current relationship with the EU, he would rather walk away from the talks without a trade deal rather than compromise the UK’s hard-fought new independence.
“Ultimately our priority is taking back control,” the source said.
Mr Barnier and other senior EU figures have claimed the UK cannot have the same deal as Canada because of the country’s “proximity” to the continent.
They claim the geographical closeness means the UK and EU economies are closely intertwined and therefore should be subject to the same rules and regulations.
But Whitehall officials insist free trade deals – such as the US-Canada-Mexico Agreement – exist around the world between neighbouring states with large economies without the need for regulatory alignment or trans-national courts to enforce rules.
Mme de Montchalin helped intensify expectations that the EU today take an uncompromising stance in the talks.
The senior minister in President Emmanuel Macron’s government claimed France’s farmers, fishing fleet and business should not have to pay the price to ensure a UK-EU trade deal is agreed by the end of the year.
She told the TV station France 2: “In this negotiation, it must be understood by British businesses that we do not want a bad agreement – almost certainly, that we will sign up to no blackmail.”
Mme de Montchalin also claimed the UK Government should not be allowed to dictate the timetable for the talks.
“It is not because that Boris Johnson wants a deal at all costs for December 31 that we will sign, under pressure, a bad deal.”
In a further indication that access to UK fishing grounds will be one of the main flashpoints in the talks, the French minister said: “The fishermen have the right to be protected, they know very well that if we sign a bad deal they will lose enormously.”
In response to her outburst, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “The UK’s primary objective in the negotiations is to ensure that we restore our economic and political independence on January 1 2021.”
A Confederation of British Industry (CBI) report called on the Prime Minister to ensure a deal with Brussels minimises bureaucracy to ensure a strong economy.
CBI director-general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said: “With talks now in touching distance, the CBI has asked employers across the country what practical outcomes they need from the future EU relationship so they can concentrate on what they do best: investing, innovating, creating jobs and supporting a strong economy.
“The message is clear: keep trade easy and minimise red tape. For this reason, British firms back many of the Government’s objectives set out in the negotiating mandate, such as on zero tariffs and data.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove will be among the ministers at the XS Committee meeting.
Full details of the UK negotiating mandate for the EU trade talks are expected to be set out in a Government “command paper” policy document on Thursday.