Johnson Warned by Tories Against Caving to EU Pressure As Post-Brexit Trade Deal ‘Teeters’ on Brink

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been warned by his own backbenchers against caving in to pressure from the EU on Brexit deal sticking points despite the looming deadline for the transition period, writes the Daily Mail.

Time is fast running out for the negotiating sides, with concerns that the current stalemate in talks might result in a no-deal scenario after 31 December, which will mean that the EU and the UK will have to trade according to the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

However, even as an orderly exit from the bloc is under threat, the die-hard pro-Brexit Tories have reportedly told Johnson that conceding to Brussels on issues such access to UK fishing waters and the concept of a ‘level playing field’ could result in the UK becoming a permanent ‘client state’ of the EU. The level playing field refers to state subsidies and regulatory standards, with Brussels concerned that Britain could cut standards and heavily subsidise its own industries, gaining an unfair advantage.

AP Photo / Gareth Fuller
A fishing boat at work in the English Channel, off the southern coast of England, Saturday Feb. 1, 2020. The fishing industry is predicted to be one of the main subjects for negotiations between the UK and Europe, after the UK left the European Union on Friday.

As for the fishing issue, UK officials are said to be concerned amid reports that the Prime Minister has agreed to defer repatriating up to half of the fishing quotas for several years. This is perceived as a sign that Johnson might renege on his original promises, made to voters during elections in 2019.

The Tories have also been decrying attempts by French President Emmanuel Macron to allegedly pressure EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier to adopt a hardline stance at the talks.

A UK source was cited by the outlet as saying:

“At the start of the week we saw Macron agitating with other EU capitals that they were giving away too much. Then you see Barnier bringing this back and the whole process goes backwards. I think everyone can join the dots. We want a deal but it has to be on the basis that we are a sovereign country again. Some people still seem to be struggling with the concept that we are going to be an independent country setting our own rules. If it stays like that there will be no deal.”

One of the persistent hurdles throughout the rounds of Brexit trade deal negotiations has been fishing, with ex-Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith referring to it as a ‘totemic issue’. Lauding the example of Norway, which sets its own fishing quotas, Smith is reported as saying that the UK needed to start with control over ‘100 percent’.

“We have to be treated like Norway is treated. We’re not looking for an increase, we are looking for control. From there, we negotiate with other countries what access they get. It’s as simple as that,” Sir Iain Duncan Smith was cited by The Telegraph as saying.

Dire warnings that Britain could find itself ‘locked in as a client state’ unless it secured regulatory autonomy – another sticking point at the talks – were issued by Theresa Villiers, the former Environment Secretary.
She added that the issue might be used by Brussels as the ‘main means’ by which it could ‘tie us into their laws’.

“There are level playing field agreements in the Canada deal and arbitration mechanisms that are acceptable. But on the other end of the spectrum we are locked in as a client state,” said Villiers.

Some Tories have reportedly been fearing that Boris Johnson might concede to the relentless pressure from Brussels.

“I am very worried that the Prime Minister is about to sign up to something unacceptable. If Boris sells us out on Brexit then he is finished, and I think he knows that,” said Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen.

‘Teetering’ Trade Deal

The developments come as the UK and EU chief negotiators, David Frost and Michel Barnier, announced on Friday that they were putting talks on hold to summon their respective political leaders to take stock. In a joint statement the sides said the conditions for an agreement had still not been met.

​PM Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen will be embarking on an emergency meeting Saturday to try and break the stalemate over a post-Brexit trade deal.

Nevertheless, David Frost is said to believe there is little hope for progress unless EU leaders persuade Emmanuel Macron to back down from his relentless stance.

France, Germany at Loggerheads

Amid a desperate scramble to clinch a post-Brexit trade deal, France and Germany have been at loggerheads over whether or not to compromise with the UK.

As ongoing disputes over fishing rights and common standards continued to block any potential breakthrough, the French government did not show any signs of readiness to cede ground.

Furthermore, Michel Barnier was seen as caving to pressure from the French side to make last-minute demands, elevating already-high tensions.

The stalemate comes as the French President has been adamant in his insistence that French trawlers maintain their current access to UK waters. Emmanuel Macron is believed to have demanded a 10-year transition to any reduction in EU fishing access.

However, Downing Street has been regarding the demand as unacceptable, with a senior government official quoted by the Times as saying the proposal is ‘not something that we can agree to or sell’.

On the issue of state aid, Michel Barnier has also called for further concessions from Britain, amid Macron’s determination to protect French firms from UK competition.

AP Photo / Olivier Hoslet
European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, speaks with the British Prime Minister’s Europe adviser David Frost during the start of the first round of post -Brexit trade talks between the EU and the UK, at EU headquarters in Brussels, Monday, March 2, 2020. Long-awaited trade talks between the EU and Britain kick off Monday amid deep tensions over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s threat to walk away from the talks if not enough progress is made within four months.

Earlier, tensions soared as France’s Europe minister, Charles Beaune, announced that Paris was prepared to veto a post-Brexit trade deal that went against French interests.

“France is attached to the interests of its fishermen, is attached to the fair business conditions. It’s also the case for our partners that if, if there were a deal that isn’t good, which in our evaluation doesn’t correspond to those interests, we will oppose it. Yes each country has a veto, so it’s possible,” Beaune was cited as saying.
Beaune added:

“We owe that to the French people, we owe it to our fishermen, and to other economic sectors.”

However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted the EU needed to cede more ground if it wanted to avoid a no-deal scenario.

Government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said said the bloc should be ready to “compromise”, adding:

“For the Chancellor, and that hasn’t changed for weeks, the willingness to compromise is needed on both sides. If you want to have a deal, both sides need to move towards each other. Everybody has their principles, there are red lines, that’s clear, but there’s always room for compromise.”

In Germany, around 460,000 jobs are linked to exports in Britain, with an estimated 60,000 in the automotive industry, according to a study by the Nuremberg Institute for Employment Research (IAB).

A no deal outcome in the UK’s talks with the EU could deliver a resounding blow to sales and have lasting negative impacts throughout the industry.

Unless Britain and the EU strike an agreement by the time the transition period ends on 31 December, the sides will have to deal with each other on World Trade Organisation terms. This would result in the imposition of tariffs on a wide range of goods. Levies of at least 40 percent could be anticipated on lamb and 10 percent on cars.

On the prospects of further talks, European Council President Charles Michel said:

“We will see what will happen in the next days. But the end of December is the end of December and we know that after 31 December we have 1 January, and we know that we need to have clarity as soon as possible.”

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