- Boris Johnson threatens to walk away from trade talks with the EU in June if a deal looks unlikely.
- The UK government said on Thursday it is prepared to abandon talks in the summer.
- Johnson’s government published its negotiating mandate for talks with the EU on Thursday.
- The mandate confirmed Johnson’s refusal to sign up to EU rules as part of a trade agreement.
- The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator hit back and accused the prime minister of “moving back from” the commitments he made to “free and fair competition” in Brexit negotiations last year.
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Boris Johnson has raised the prospect a chaotic divorce from the European Union this year after threatening to walk away from trade talks with the Brussels in June if a deal looks unlikely.
Johnson’s government on Thursday published his negotiating mandate for the next 10 months of talks, setting up a clash with Brussels once negotiations get underway in the next few weeks.
The document — called “The Future Relationship with the EU: The UK’s Approach to Negotiations” — sets out the UK’s plan to reclaim full control over key areas, including state aid, environmental standards, and fishing waters.
It confirms Johnson’s objective to negotiate a Canada-style deal with the EU. The mandate says: “This Agreement should be on the lines of the FTAs agreed by the EU in recent years such as Canada and with other friendly countries.”
However, the mandate offered a significant new insight into Johnson’s thinking in its warning to Brussels that the UK government would walk away from talks in the summer if there has not been sufficient progress towards a deal.
It says: “The Government would hope that, by that point [June], the broad outline of an agreement would be clear and be capable of being rapidly finalised by September.
“If that does not seem to be the case at the June meeting, the Government will need to 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.”
If Johnson decides to abandon talks, the UK would leave the transition period and begin trading with Brussels on World Trade Organisation terms, which businesses have warned would unleash swathes of new checks and cause significant economic damage.
Barnier accuses Johnson of breaking Brexit promises
The document’s publication came after EU figures accused Johnson of planning to scrap promises he made last year.
The mandate says that the UK government will not sign up to EU rules — or “level playing field” commitments — as claiming that it would prevent the UK from reclaiming its full independence.
However, the EU argues that Johnson agreed to a future level playing field with the EU when he signed the non-legally binding Political Declaration at the end of last year.
Brussels insists that it will only agree to a trade deal if the UK commits legally to such an arrangement, but Downing Street is determined not to follow EU rules and regulations once Britain has fully left the EU in January next year.
After reports of Johnson’s plan to row back on the political declaration emerged on Wednesday, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator hit back and accused the prime minister of “moving back from” the commitments he made to “free and fair competition” in Brexit negotiations last year.
In a speech to students, Barnier said: “Promises were made to cooperate with us, to make sure there’s no form of unfair competition. The text in the Political Declaration needs to be properly respected and implemented to the letter in a legal framework.”
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