Britain can be the “superman” of free trade and will not need to accept European Union rules on an agreement with the bloc, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
- Trade deal with Australia is in UK’s top four priorities
- Britain will not accept the EU’s rules for a free trade deal
- The UK wants a trade deal similar to Canada’s by the end of 2020
But Brussels clashed with the UK’s position and warned of tariffs and quotas unless they adhered to EU rules.
Mr Johnson, during a speech on Monday (local time), said a trade deal with Australia was in his top four priorities, as he outlined his vision for a deal with the European Union post-Brexit.
The UK officially left the EU last week. The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy and the EU is its biggest trading partner.
“Humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion of the right of populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other,” Mr Johnson said.
Britain would not accept the EU’s rules to strike a comprehensive free trade deal with the bloc, Mr Johnson said, adding that the choice was either a Canada or Australia-style accord.
“There is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection, the environment or anything similar, any more than the EU should be obliged to accept UK rules,” Mr Johnson said.
“Are we going to insist that the EU does everything that we do as the price of free trade? Are we? Of course not.
“The UK will maintain the highest standards in these areas, better in many respects than those of the EU without the compulsion of a treaty.”
Britain wants to negotiate a trade deal by the end of 2020, though EU leaders said the further Britain diverges from their rules the less access it would have to the EU market.
At the moment, much of EU-Australia trade runs along basic World Trade Organisation rules, though there are specific agreements for certain goods. Australia is in the process of negotiating a trade deal with the EU.
‘A cliff-edge on many fronts’
The European Union wants an ambitious zero-tariffs and zero-quotas trade deal with Britain but this would be conditional on open and fair competition between the UK and the 27-nation bloc, the EU’s Brexit negotiator said.
Michel Barnier, unveiling the European Commission’s mandate for talks with Britain on their future relationship, said there should be a level playing field over the long term on social, state aid and environmental standards.
“You cannot accuse us of a lack of ambition,” he told a news conference in Brussels.
“First and foremost, we will defend the interests of the union, its citizens and its businesses.
“We’ll continue to prepare for a situation where no deal is being arrived at. We certainly don’t want that to happen. We’ll work to avoid that, but if we can’t manage a deal by the end of the year there will be a cliff-edge on many fronts.”
Businesses will have to take the same steps to prepare for the end of the Brexit transition period whether Britain strikes the Canada-style trade deal it is seeking, or a less comprehensive deal, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said.
Speaking after Mr Johnson set out Britain’s negotiating stance, the spokesman told reporters there were likely to be customs processes required as the government defines its new trading relationships.
In a written statement to Parliament, Mr Johnson set out the type of deal he wanted with the EU.
He said there was “complete certainty” a deal will be finished by the end of 2020. Britain is currently operating under EU rules during a time-limited transition period.
“The UK will be leaving the single market and the customs union at the end of this year and stakeholders should prepare for that reality,” he said.
Mr Johnson said he wanted a “suite of agreements” covering substantially all trade; an agreement on fisheries; cooperation in the area of internal security; and technical agreements covering aviation and civil nuclear cooperation.
Sterling fell by around 1 per cent on Monday (local time) after Mr Johnson set out the tough terms, rekindling fears Britain would reach the end of an 11-month transition period without agreeing a trade deal.