Brexit: Boris Johnson accused of ‘scorched earth’ approach to trade negotiations with EU

‘There are two likely outcomes in negotiation – a free trade deal like Canada or a looser arrangement like Australia – and we are happy to pursue both,’ government source says

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 02 February 2020 00:03 GMT
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Boris Johnson has been accused of pursuing a “scorched earth” approach to trade negotiations with the EU, as he sets out his plans to broker an agreement with the bloc.

In a major speech on Monday – after the UK severed its 47-year membership of the EU – Mr Johnson will outline his ambitions for a future trade relationship with Brussels to businesses and ambassadors from across the globe.

The prime minister is expected to say that “no achievement lies beyond our reach”, in the imminent trade talks, and will insist there will be no alignment with the EU – a move that will create considerable concern among UK firms.

“There are two likely outcomes in negotiation – a free trade deal like Canada or a looser arrangement like Australia – and we are happy to pursue both,” a government source said on Saturday.

As it stands, the EU trades with Australia under a partnership agreed in 2008, and is currently negotiating a free trade agreement with the bloc. Canada brokered a free trade agreement with Brussels over several years, eliminating 98 per cent of tariffs on goods, but it does little for financial services.

Ed Davey, the acting Liberal Democrat leader, however, lashed out at the plans. “Boris Johnson talks about bringing the country together and building a prosperous future,” he said.

“Neither of those things can be done by deliberately hollowing out our existing trade relationship with our most important economic partners. This is nothing short of a scorched-earth policy.

“Johnson is only interested in bringing the Brexit vote together, not the country. He is more than happy to leave the 48 per cent behind.”

The government will also publish a ministerial statement in the House of Commons on Monday – setting out the UK’s position on talks with the EU – to coincide with the publication of the bloc’s own mandate.

It comes after The Daily Telegraph claimed the prime minister is preparing to impose full customs and border checks on all goods entering the UK after the transition period in a major departure from previous plans.

A Whitehall source told the newspaper: “We are planning full checks on all EU imports – export declarations, security declarations, animal health checks and all supermarket goods to pass through border inspection posts. This will double the practical challenge at the border in January 2021.”

On Saturday, the ex-Brexit secretary David Davis also said it would be a “fair race” to strike a trade deal with the EU by the end of the transition period in December 2020, but insisted it “can be done”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Davis said extensive work had already been completed when he was in the cabinet to analyse every free trade deal Brussels had previously struck with other third countries.

“We should have started last March,” he added. “That being said, a lot of work has been done. There’s the possibility of a trade deal taking pieces from all the other trade deals that the European Union has done and therefore cannot undermine the single market.

“It is going to be a fair race to do it right now because it was going to be 21 months, now it is only 11, but nevertheless it can be done in the time period.”

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