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Johnson signals hardline stance ahead of UK-EU trade talks

By Hugh Wilson

Prime minister puts UK on a collision course with EU over regulatory alignment

Brexit bartering began in earnest on Monday, February 3, with UK prime minister Boris Johnson setting out a hardline stance ahead of the start of formal trade negotiations next month.

Johnson used a speech to ambassadors and business people to say that the UK has no need to align to EU rules and regulations over competition, welfare spending and environmental standards.

His bullish tone is likely to set the UK on a collision course with the EU, which wants Britain to agree to retain a “level playing field” in a number of areas - which means adhering to many of its rules.

Johnson said: “There is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection, the environment, or anything similar, any more than the EU should be obliged to accept UK rules.”

The strategy is a gamble, with the EU determined to tie the UK’s access to its single market of 450 million people to an acceptance of the need for close policy alignment. The EU published its own draft negotiating guidelines for the proposed UK-EU trade deal on Monday.

Dacian Cioloș, a former prime minister of Romania who leads the Renew group in the European parliament, said: “The extent to which the EU can be open and make concessions will depend strongly on the extent to which the British government will be willing to cooperate.”

After officially leaving the EU on 31 January, the UK and EU have now officially entered a stand still transition period that expires at the end of 2020.

FURTHER READING: Brexit Day: what next for investors after January 31?

FURTHER READING: UK tries to calm car makers’ Brexit fears

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