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Brexit: UK negotiating objectives for trade with EU, in a nutshell

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The Guardian | 27 February 2020

Brexit: UK negotiating objectives for trade with EU, in a nutshell

by Lisa O’Carroll

The government has released its negotiating objectives for the next phase of Brexit, centring on the future trading relationship and other issues.

At its core is a decision to abandon commitments made in October in the joint EU-UK political declaration signed alongside the legally binding withdrawal agreement.

If it does not look like a deal can be struck by June the government will consider preparing the country for a no deal and putting all its energies into no-deal preparations.

Overall vision

 The goals

The UK aims for a relationship based on “friendly cooperation between sovereign equals” with both sides respecting each other’s “legal autonomy”.

It will not abide by EU rules and states the UK “will not negotiate any arrangement in which the UK does not have control of its own laws”, will not accept any “obligations” to be aligned with EU laws, or the “EU institutions, including the court of justice”.

This is a complete departure from the political declaration agreement and lays the ground for a fierce battle between both sides over the “level playing field” they both aspired to in the October document.

 Canada-style agreement plus side deals

The UK wants a “comprehensive free trade agreement” but in the same paragraph states it wants a Canada-style agreement “supplemented” by a range of other agreements including “fisheries law enforcement … judicial cooperation in criminal matters, transport and energy”.

This indicates the UK’s goal is not the ambitious comprehensive associate arrangement sought by Theresa May and that Johnson is willing to settle for a bare bones trade agreement with a series of side deals to cover the remaining issues.

 Transition period

As expected the government restates the position it inserted into law in January – it will not seek to extend the transition period beyond 31 December.

 Deadline for deal

The UK expects that a series of negotiating rounds will result in a “broad outline of an agreement” that could be “finalised by September”.

 No-deal cliff edge

If a stock-take in June suggests that a framework for a deal is not emerging from talks, then the UK will decide if it should pivot all government efforts towards a no deal.

The detail

 Crime and extradition

In what will alarm many, the UK says it is “not seeking to participate in the European arrest warrant”, which allows the UK and other countries to pursue criminals who have crossed member state borders to flee justice. Instead the UK wants “fast-track extradition arrangements”.

This is in line with the Queen’s speech in December. Johnson believes this new approach will give the police powers to arrest suspects speedily. However, it has led to accusations that the UK could be become “a haven for Europe’s worst criminals”.

 Northern Ireland protocol

There are nine mentions of Ireland in the document but no explicit detail to support the government’s recent indications that it will not comply with the Northern Ireland protocol and commit to checks and controls on goods going between GB and Northern Ireland. The chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, said however in his statement to parliament that negotiations would be conducted “in full respect of the Northern Ireland protocol”.


The government restates its pledge to Brexit heartlands that the UK will be an independent coastal state by the end of this year. While the EU is demanding continued access to British waters, the document makes it plain there will be no such deal. Instead it will consider access for any EU vessels in “annual negotiations”, pointing out that the current fisheries deal is obsolete and based on fishing activity in the 1970s.

“The UK will be negotiating separate fisheries framework agreements with other independent coastal states, notably Norway,” it states.

 Subsidies/state aid

The document lays the ground for a clash over state subsidies.

It states in plain English that the UK will not let the EU decide which companies can get state bungs.

“The UK will have its own regime of subsidy control,” it says. It wants a new system whereby each side will commit to being transparent about state subsidies, notifying each other every two years of any bungs to business.

It also appears to abandon commitments in the political declaration on dispute resolution, in line with the government’s position it will not submit to decisions or directives from EU institutions.

 Workers’ rights

Here the government is committing to “reciprocal commitments not to weaken or reduce the level of protection afforded by labour laws and standards”.

However, it wants to reserve the right to “adopt or modify its labour laws”.


The same aspirations apply to environmental standards.

 Access to each other’s markets

The UK is seeking tariff-free access to the EU market.

But the UK does not want checks on food and animals in cross border trade. The paper says the new deal should “ensure special agricultural safeguards are not applied to goods traded between the parties”.

However, the EU has made it clear that such checks will be mandatory in the event that the UK diverges from European standards and regulation on animal and plant products (hence the recent rows over chlorinated chicken).


The UK wants a data deal alongside the trade deal to facilitate cross-border commerce. Gove told parliament it would be looking for a “data adequacy” agreement from the EU.

An “adequacy” deal will be key for trade and tourism, allowing personal data to continue to flow between the 27 EU member states and the UK. The EU has already recognised 11 countries or territories, including Argentina, Israel, New Zealand and most recently Japan, as providing fully adequate data protection.

 Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks

The paper anticipates checks on animals and food products entering each other’s markets.

This will involve border inspection posts being built in ports and airports on both sides of the Channel. But the UK is asking that “parties’ SPS measures do not create unjustified barriers to trade in agri-food goods”.


The UK is seeking “streamlined customs arrangements” and minimal barriers to the booming “roll on, roll off” ferry trade between Dover and Calais. It also wants cooperation to combat smuggling and tax dodging. Gove confirmed in parliament the UK would need to recruit 50,000 customs officials and agents. Later the government clarified that the 50,000 number was not “officials” but the “intermediaries” who will be needed to help business complete and file their customs declarations.

Later the government clarified that the 50,000 number was not “officials” but the “intermediaries” who will be needed to help business complete and file their customs declarations.


The UK wants a deal on services by the end of the year, including digital services and access to the EU for people delivering services that come with high value engineering, aerospace and technical products.

 Financial services

There has been a lot of talk about the UK demanding a permanent access arrangement for the financial services sector, with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, warning that the government should not “kid themselves”.

The paper is not so blunt but demands “legal certainty to suppliers and businesses”, which suggests a permanent access or “equivalence” arrangement.

The paper argues that “the fact that the UK leaves the EU with the same rules provides a strong basis for concluding comprehensive equivalence assessments before the end of June 2020”.

 Mutual recognition of professional qualifications

As expected the UK is hoping for mutual recognition of qualifications which would enable professionals such as accountants, lawyers, architects and doctors to continue practising in each other’s countries.

 Freight transport

The UK wants to continue as before with no limit on the number of drivers who can access the EU and vice versa.

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 source: The Guardian