Downing Street has indicated that it wants to sign a trade deal with the European Union by September, as leading Brexiteers have urged the prime minister to reject any calls from Brussels for a “compromise” that could see the UK surrender on fishing or regulations.
Face-to-face talks between Brussels and London recommenced on Monday in Brussels, with a Downing Street spokesman suggesting that the end of September was the cut-off for agreeing on a trade deal.
“We’ve always been clear that talks can’t go on into the autumn. We need to make progress as soon as possible,” the spokesman said, according to The Telegraph.
“I think we have spoken in the past about not wanting to be continuing having talks in October,” the spokesman clarified.
The UK officially left the EU on January 31st, 2020, but remains in a transition period until December 31st, 2020. Tied to the EU’s institutions, during this time Brussels and London are working on a future trade arrangement. If a deal is not struck by the end of the transition period, the UK will leave the EU’s rules, Single Market, and Customs Union and trade with the bloc on World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
While September may, therefore, seem like an advanced deadline, the government has said before that it would consider pulling out of negotiations if progress on a deal was not agreed by the end of June. With the end of the month fast approaching and both sides admitting that to date no progress has been made, further talks are nevertheless scheduled for July and August.
Prime Minister Johnson said this month, however, that with renewed focus he believes a deal could be struck by July.
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The deadline comes as the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost has been appointed the next national security adviser (NSA), and will be taking up the role at the end of August, for a period juggling the two positions.
The spokesman said: “There will be a short transition period [of Frost’s role] so if there is a small overlap with the Brexit negotiations that is possible.
“David has said he will, of course, remain chief negotiator while the talks are being concluded one way or another.”
Clarify that the serious nature of the autumn deadline, the spokesman added: “The talks cannot go on forever. We need to make sure businesses can prepare properly for what will happen at the end of the year.
“If negotiations go on too long into the autumn then they won’t know what to prepare for.”
The deadline comes as senior Conservative MPs have told British negotiators to reject any calls to accept “compromises” from the EU in exchange for a deal. The EU remains insistent that the UK continues alignment with Brussels rules on trade — the “level playing field” — to stop Brexit Britain becoming a competitor in the region. Brussels also wants the future trade deal to be overseen by the European Court of Justice, and for continued long-term access to Britain’s lucrative fishing waters.
Reports had circulated that Prime Minister Johnson was considering a compromise whereby the UK would accept tariffs if it deviated from EU rules after the end of the transition period.
David Jones, the deputy chairman of the European Research Group (ERG), said according to The Telegraph: “We would certainly oppose such a suggestion.
“The whole point is if we’re tethered to their rules then we’re inevitably tethered to the European Court of Justice and if that is the case then we can’t be said to be an independent country.
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“You can’t be just a little bit independent. You’re either independent or you’re not. It’s impossible; it’s like being a little bit pregnant.”
Last week, Mr Frost had played down suggestions of a compromise, saying that sovereignty is “not up for discussion”. He added: “I want to be clear that the government will not agree to ideas like the one currently circulating giving the EU a new right to retaliate with tariffs if we chose to make laws suiting our interests.
“We could not leave ourselves open to such unforeseeable economic risk.”
Meanwhile, a group led by leading Brexiteer businessmen John Mills and John Longsworth have urged the government to ditch focusing on trade deals with China and the EU and reach out to eastern democracies like Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea and prioritise Commonwealth allies like Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.
“Brexit presents the UK with a wealth of opportunities to bolster free trade with areas of the world, like the Indo-Pacific, where existing ties are currently underdeveloped. Effective free-trade arrangements will be central to fuelling both Britain’s and the world’s post-Covid economic recovery,” Mr Mills said, according to the i newspaper.
The UK is already embarking on trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, with Australia’s high commissioner in the United Kingdom saying that an agreement could be signed in months, while Japan is pushing for a free trade agreement in six weeks.
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