Several senior German politicians have expressed concern over British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s hardline rhetoric related to London’s trade talks with Brussels following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on 31 January.
Speaking at a London School of Economics gathering earlier this week, Ralph Brinkhaus, parliamentary leader of Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, recalled that “within the next 11 months we have to decide what the common base of the relationship will be with the UK.”
“We will compete. No question about that and no one is afraid of that. But we can have competition with cooperation or competition with conflict. Listening to the government’s speeches this week, I am not quite sure what the position is of the UK,” Brinkhaus said.
He was echoed by German Green party leader Robert Habeck, who remained downbeat about the signing of a trade deal between the EU and the UK.
He specifically pointed to Johnson’s unwillingness “to conduct the negotiations after 11 months” and “to accept the EU rules for work, environment, or the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice”.
“The EU, on the other hand, cannot accept tax or regulatory dumping on its doorstep and must protect its single market and insist on a level playing field. The risk of an unregulated no-deal Brexit is still high, and maybe has never before been higher,” Habeck warned.
The view was supported by Norbert Rottgen, chairman of the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee and CDU member, who insisted that the issue is “whether we are listening to policy or rhetoric aimed at a domestic audience”.
“There is a danger on both sides that the intense rhetoric about principles gets emphasised time and again and so creates a reality of its own. The risk is that it gets difficult to switch to a different pragmatic response by the end of the year because that would mean losing face,” he asserted.
According to Rottgen, the fact that the two sides are at odds over the issues of regulatory alignment and the European Court of Justice may hamper the signing of a full-fledged deal before the end of this year. At the same time, he did not rule out that an initial deal might be clinched by November to cover “security, and those trade areas that are vital to limit mutual damage”.
Johnson Warns the UK May Walk Away From Trade Talks
The comments followed Johnson’s first keynote speech after Brexit, in which he, in particular, warned that Britain will withdraw from trade talks with the EU unless it “gets the message” that London will never again be bound by rules outlined by Brussels.
He pledged that London will not "undermine EU standards" and will not engage in dumping, "whether commercial or social or environmental", when negotiating new post-Brexit trade deals. While assuring that the UK is not intending to enforce its own views on the EU about how free trade should look, Johnson was still critical of certain economic policies of some European states.
“Look at state aid, France spends twice as much on state aid as the UK, Germany three times as much. Who is using subsidies to undercut? Not the UK,” he said.
Following its official exit from the EU on 31 January, the UK is set to go through an 11-month transition period to negotiate new trade deals with other countries, as well as the bloc.