UK and EU clash over trade with 11 months to make a deal

LONDON (AP) – Britain and the European Union (EU) set out clashing opening gambits on Monday on striking a post-Brexit trade deal, making it clear that each side is willing to walk away without an agreement rather than compromise on key issues.

United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent a bravado-filled salvo toward Brussels three days after Britain left the bloc, the first country to exit. In a speech to business leaders and international diplomats in London, Johnson said “we want a free trade agreement” – but not at any cost.

“I see no need to bind ourselves to an agreement with the EU,” he said, insisting that Britain would “restore full sovereign control” over its borders, rules and economy.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier was equally emphatic that the EU’s 27 remaining nations wouldn’t agree to any British trade deal just to avoid a costly, chaotic “no-deal” at the start of 2021, when an 11-month post-Brexit transition period ends.

“We are in favour of free trade, but we are not going to be naive,” Barnier said. “If the request is to have broad access to a market of 450 million European consumers, zero tariffs, zero quotas – that won’t happen for nothing, or in any kind of condition.”

In their divorce agreement, Britain and the EU agreed to strike an “ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership,” including a free trade deal and agreements for security and other areas.

The details are to be worked out during a transition period lasting until the end of 2020, in which relations stay essentially unchanged. For the rest of this year the UK will continue to follow EU rules, although it will no longer have a say in EU decision-making.

After that, a cliff-edge looms. But Johnson insisted the choice facing Britain was not “deal or no deal.”

“The question is whether we agree a trading relationship with the EU comparable to Canada’s – or more like Australia’s,” Johnson said.