EU Tells UK: No Canada Trade Deal, But We’ll Have Your Fish

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FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP via Getty Images

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said that the UK cannot have the same trading arrangements as Canada because Britain is a major economy on Europe’s doorstep and poses a competitive threat.

Speaking to journalists outside of the European Parliament on Tuesday, Mr Barnier said the country “has a very particular proximity — a unique territorial and economic closeness — which is why it can’t be compared to Canada or South Korea or Japan”.

For that reason, Eurocrats and EU leaders will only agree to a “partnership” that includes “in particular fishing” and “a level playing field”.

The remarks came in response to British Brexit negotiator David Frost’s speech on Monday night where he said that the UK will not accept the EU’s “level playing field”, saying signing up to continued obeisance to EU rules would defeat the point of Brexit and that the UK must be able to set its own laws after the transition period.

“We only want what other independent countries have,” Mr Frost had said.

Asked whether the EU demands would be undemocratic, Mr Barnier said on Tuesday: “Truly not. It is a sovereign decision of the EU, it is a sovereign decision of the UK to cooperate.”

“That is what Boris Johnson wrote in the political declaration,” he added.

Barnier has before proposed that it would ransom a trade deal for continued access to the UK’s lucrative fishing waters, but the EU may also demand the Elgin marbles be returns to the Parthenon in Greece.

A leaked draft document on the negotiating position seen by The Guardian calls for the UK and EU to “address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin” — interpreted by Downing Street to mean the ancient Greek sculptures taken with the consent of the Ottoman Empire and in the care of the British Museum for over two centuries.

“This is just not happening,” a Downing Street source said of the artwork, adding: “And it shows a troubling lack of seriousness about negotiations on the EU side.” EU and Greek officials claimed the clause did not relate to the marbles — rather to the trade in illegal antiquities — despite the ongoing diplomatic row over the works.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had announced in his first Brexit speech since winning the election that he was pursuing a Canada-style deal, where 98 per cent of tariffs are lifted. He stated in early February that he would rather the UK leave the bloc’s institutions after the transition period in December 2020 — trading with the EU-27 on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms, accepting tariffs — rather than continue to restrict the country by abiding by EU regulations.

The EU’s position is certain to drive the UK to a ‘No Deal 2.0’, which even Remainer Tony Blair said last year is the “likely outcome” of negotiations, given the UK’s stated desire to diverge from Brussels’ regulations.

The UK is currently courting other countries around the world for trade deals; however, efforts may be undone by a reported reluctance of the prime minister to undertake foreign trips himself. Having another trade deal signed, particularly with the United States, would have worked as profound leverage over the EU, pressuring Brussels into agreeing on a good deal with London.

The timescale for agreeing on deals is tight — ten months, and counting — and a visit to the United States has already been postponed a number of times, as well as trade delegations to Australia and New Zealand.

Downing Street sources have said “there is a lot of concern about this,” adding: “If we don’t do any trade tours this year, it’s going to affect the entire Brexit process. The PM is our best asset.”

Relations have also soured with key Five Eyes colleagues Australia and the United States over Prime Minister Johnson’s decision to allow Chinese firm Huawei access to developing parts of the UK’s 5G network, which allies say represent a significant security concern. U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly slammed the phone down on Johnson over the decision while Australian MPs cancelled their visit to the UK.

In confidential discussions, Australian lawmakers are reported to have said: “How would you feel if the Russians laid down infrastructure in your own networks? That’s how we feel about Huawei.”

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