06:56 GMT04 April 2020
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    The UK formally left the European Union on January 31, and is expected to spend the balance of 2020 negotiating on outstanding issues with Brussels, including the all-important hoped-for trade deal.

    Britain’s “primary objective” in trade negotiations with Europe “is to ensure we restore economic and political independence on January 1, 2021,” James Slack, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman, has said.

    Speaking to reporters in London on Monday ahead of trade talks between UK and EU officials next week, Slack promised that the UK would “comply with our obligations” in allowing for Northern Ireland to remain in the EU’s single market. Goods moving from Northern Ireland to Britain would continue to have “unfettered access,” the spokesman said, according to Bloomberg.

    Under the Brexit deal signed last October, Northern Ireland will be allowed to remain part of the EU’s single market, even as it stays a part of the UK’s customs system, which will collect taxes on Brussel’s behalf, with a customs border to be established in the Irish Sea.

    France Won’t Be Blackmailed

    Earlier, French EU Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin stressed that Paris would not “sacrifice” French industry and the interests of its fisheries for the sake of London’s January 1 deadline.

    “Just because Boris Johnson wants an agreement at all costs on 12/31 does not mean that we will sign a bad agreement for the French under the pressure of blackmail or time pressure,” de Montchalin wrote on Twitter.

    Last week, President Macron expressed doubts about the possibility of reaching a successful deal at all, and predicted that the upcoming talks would be “tough.” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian, meanwhile, ominously suggested that EU and British negotiators could “rip each other apart.”

    Prime Minister Johnson had previously expressed opposition to extending the trade deal deadline, saying there was no need to do so. He also said that the UK would not accept EU rules on competition policy or “other issues.” London previously indicated that it would attempt to negotiate a trade agreement similar to the one the EU has with Canada. Under that deal, which entered into provisional force in 2017 but has yet to be ratified by European legislators, nearly all tariffs between the two parties were removed.

    Earlier, a circulating draft of the EU’s possible negotiating mandate included goals such as keeping the UK within the bloc’s environmental and labour market rules, warning reduced market access if these regulations were not maintained. The Johnson government criticized those demands, and warned that the UK would “prosper mightily” even if a deal was not signed.

    Britain’s government is expected to approve the UK’s negotiating position on Thursday. The EU expects to publish its goals on Tuesday, with ambassadors from bloc countries meeting Monday and the General Affairs Council coordinating body planning to meet Tuesday.

    Talks are expected to start in early March.

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