Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing to tear up a chunk of the trade deal with the EU, as he draws up Britain’s so-called negotiating “red lines” for the upcoming March talks with the bloc his country split up with on 31 January, The Telegraph reported.
According to Downing Street sources, the rules of engagement agreed by Johnson last year had been forced out by the Tory manifesto pledges that were made at the time of his election triumph in December.
The prime minister is understood to stick to the point of view that he is fully entitled to backtrack on previous arrangements, including on state aid, the fishing industry, etc. since they are not legally binding treaties, unlike the Withdrawal Agreement.
To prove the point, the British side pointed to the fact that Brussels had quietly missed some of its commitments from the political declaration as it published its own negotiating lines early this week. Among those are declaration pledges to reach an agreement on financial services by June 2020, and on data by the end of December.
"The Withdrawal Agreement is an international treaty – the political declaration is not of that status", the Whitehall spokesman noted, while a senior Tory source, cited by The Telegraph, explained at length the main pillars of Johnson’s negotiating stance:
"The prime minister's mandate was derived from the manifesto, which was published after the agreement of the political declaration and is very clear about the government's intention, which is to get a Canada-style trade agreement and take back control of our borders, laws, and money", he said.
Concerning trade arrangements, chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier expressed a readiness to “offer to the UK super-preferential access to our markets – a level of access that would be unprecedented for a third country", while also obliging the Britain to give “firm guarantees that it will respect the 'level playing field’".
"Of course we love 'Made in Britain' but we must guarantee that the goods we import from the UK, tariff and quota free, really are British", Barnier specified, having previously stated the the EU wouldn’t allow Britain to subject European countries operating on British soil to lower tax or environmental standards.
Several trade schemes are understood to be up for negotiation, with Downing Street rooting for a no-tariff and no-quota Canada-style deal - something that the EU says is hardly achievable given the historically much vaster scale of British-EU ties.
If a Canada-style agreement is off the table, London says it is otherwise ready to agree to basic, less beneficial World Trade Organisation regulations.
The first round of talks is scheduled to kick off in Brussels next Monday and is set to last until Thursday, with a second round due to be held in London later in March.