Talks continue today with the European Union insisting the UK must sign up to common standards in order to be given preferential trading conditions. In a two-hour meeting at the European Commission yesterday, UK chief negotiator David Frost set out Boris Johnson’s vision for future relations.
His team has been told to be friendly but robust – and protecting Britain’s sovereignty is the top priority.
A Government spokesman said: “The UK will engage constructively to reach a Free Trade Agreement which fully respects the UK’s political and regulatory autonomy.”
There are fears flashpoints may collapse the talks within weeks, with clashes over the competition, fishing and the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
UK officials were reminded they are in Brussels to deliver on the Government’s manifesto to negotiate as sovereign equals – and there will be no alignment with EU rules or ECJ jurisdiction in the UK.
Brussels wants a so-called level playing field where Britain would maintain the same or similar standards on the environment, labour and state aid rules.
The EU also wants to stop the UK slashing red tape to undercut the bloc.
Talks are expected to continue until Thursday before a second round in London later this month.
For the first time since Britain left the EU on January 31, officials wore passes on lanyards featuring the Union flag.
Both sides agreed not to shake hands amid fears over the spread of coronavirus.
Britain is refusing to extend talks beyond the end of the year, warning it will walk away without a trade deal.
The Prime Minister wants significant progress by June to allow a deal to be finalised by September.
He will decide whether to pull the plug on talks and instead “decide whether the UK’s attention should move away from negotiations and focus solely on continuing domestic preparations to exit the transition period in an orderly fashion”.
Both sides are at odds over a Canada-style free trade deal, as well as demands over fishing, state subsidies and standards.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier says such a deal, which would axe most import taxes but still require some border checks, is not suitable due to Britain’s nearness to the continent.
Sam Lowe of the Centre for European Reform said: “A deal by the end of the year is still possible but it will require both parties to drift away from their opening positions.