Boris Johnson launches hunt for new commissioner to drum up trade with EU countries

Successful candidate for £120,000-a-year job in Milan will be expected to ‘deepen the UK’s trade with European markets’

Adam Forrest@adamtomforrest
Wednesday 09 December 2020 14:47
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Brexit briefing: How long until the end of the transition period?

Boris Johnson’s government has launched a hunt for a commissioner to drum trade with Europe – only three weeks before the end of the Brexit transition period.

The Department for International Trade (DIT) is advertising for the “high-profile, exciting and critical post” based in the Italian city of Milan.

The recruitment ad for the £120,000-a-year job will close on at the end of 10 January – 10 days after the UK has quit the EU’s single market and customs union.

The job description says that the commissioner will be expected to “focus on strengthening and deepening the UK’s trade with European markets,” adding: “Europe is home to many of the UK’s largest and closest trade partners.”

However, it not clear what sort of agreements can be forged next year. Downing Street sources have made clear there will be no further trade negotiations with the EU in 2021 if Mr Johnson cannot secure a free trade deal in the coming days.

And EU leaders have made clear they negotiate trade deals as a bloc – not as 27 separate member countries.

It comes as Mr Johnson heads to Brussels on Wednesday for a dinner meeting with the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. The eleventh-hour bid to unblock trade negotiations comes ahead of a vital summit by EU leaders in the Belgian capital on Thursday.

EU negotiator Michel Barnier is said to have told EU foreign ministers he now believes that a no-deal Brexit is “more likely” than a last-minute trade deal being agreed between the two nations, according to overnight reports.

International trade secretary Liz Truss is set to formalise the UK’s trade agreement with Canada this week, one of several major “roll-over” deals which essentially replicate the arrangements Britain used to have in the EU.

Ms Truss’s department also announced on Tuesday that the UK will unilaterally drop tariffs on US goods related to the long-standing Airbus-Boeing state aid dispute from next year.

The move is being seen as an attempt by the UK to build bridges with the incoming Joe Biden administration and encourage Washington to look more kindly on proposals for a comprehensive post-Brexit US-UK trade deal.

International trade secretary Liz Truss

Donald Trump’s administration hit the EU with tariffs on £5.6bn worth of goods in retaliation for state support given to Airbus, with products including Scotch whisky badly affected by the measures.

The EU responded with tariffs on £3bn of US goods over subsidies given to Boeing but the UK will suspend those measures from January 1 – presenting it as an olive branch to the US.

Ms Truss hopes the dropping of those tariffs will help bring about a reasonable settlement over the Airbus-Boeing row. “Ultimately, we want to de-escalate the conflict and come to a negotiated settlement so we can deepen our trading relationship with the US and draw a line under all this.”

The Independent has contacted DIT for comment on the new trade commissioner to Europe role.

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