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Britain and the EU may 'rip each other apart' over trade, says French foreign minister

By Amanda Cooper

Warning comes as the UK and EU are set to start trade negotiations

Britain faces a tough battle with the European Union in its trade negotiations, according to the French foreign minister. And UK consumers will bear the brunt of any agreement that does not cut checks and red tape, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said.

The BRC, which represents around 5,000 UK-based businesses, published a roadmap that details retailers’ priorities for future trade with the EU from January 2021.

The UK left the EU formally on January 31 but has until the end of December to agree the terms of conditions of its future relationship with the block. The British government has said it favours a deal based on "friendly cooperation between sovereign equals”.

David Frost, Britain’s chief negotiator, is expected to say that the UK is happy with a deal based on that agreed by the EU with Canada, but will rule out any form of regulatory alignment with the single market from 2021.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned that talks, which start this month, will be tough for both sides.

“I think that on trade issues and the mechanism for future relations, which we are going to start on, we are going to rip each other apart. But that is part of negotiations, everyone will defend their own interests,” Le Drian told a security conference in Munich.

Almost 80 per cent of the food that UK retailers import comes from the EU, according to the BRC. Most of this comes through Dover and Folkestone, the UK’s largest roll-on-roll-off ports, which handle almost 7,000 lorries every day (up to 10,000 during peak periods), it added.

If Britain does not reach “pragmatic solutions and agreements” with the EU, UK importers will face a mountain of paperwork. Documents could range from tax and excise, to freight, health and veterinary paperwork, export health certificates, exit and entry summary declarations, and safety and security permits, the BRC said.

“The issue is simple – higher tariffs and extensive checks will harm consumers, retailers and the UK economy. The Government must set about to negotiate a zero tariff agreement that minimises checks and red tape otherwise it will be consumers who suffer as a result,” Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said.

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

FURTHER READING: Sterling falls hard as Johnson strikes bullish tone on Brexit

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