1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Brexit: UK and EU clash over trade talks

February 3, 2020

The EU says it will extend an "exceptional offer" to Britain as a future trade partner — but the bloc will demand terms on fisheries and trade that will be hard for the UK to accept.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/F. Augstein

The European Union has said it will offer Britain a "highly ambitious" trade deal, including zero tariffs and quotas, on the condition that Britain signs up to EU standards now — and in the future, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Monday.

Barnier said competition between the EU and Britain should remain "open and fair" and, as already agreed with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, prevent "unfair competitive advantages."

But the former French minister also warned: "It won't be business as usual" once Britain's transition period comes to an end.

Britain on Friday became the first country to leave the EU — but daily business between the UK and the 27-member bloc will continue as part of an 11-month transition period that will go on until the rest of the year.

Read more: 'No need' to accept EU rules in post-Brexit talks: Johnson 

EU eyes fisheries

"Our free trade agreement must include an agreement on fisheries," Barnier said in Brussels. "This agreement should provide for continued reciprocal access to markets and to waters with table quota shares."

Barnier was unveiling his negotiating mandate ahead of talks with Johnson's government on the EU's future relations with Britain after the post-Brexit transition period.

"If we can agree on this as well as robust commitments toward a level playing field ... we will achieve a very ambitious, free and fair trade agreement," Barnier added. 

Barnier's comments came just before Johnson gave a televised address from London. 

Read more: After Brexit, tiny German village becomes new EU center

Johnson hits back

"Free trade is being choked, and that is no fault of the people, that is no fault of individual consumers. I'm afraid it is the politicians who are failing to lead, the mercantilists are everywhere, the protectionists are gaining ground," said Johnson. 

"From Brussels to China to Washington, tariffs are being waved around like cudgels," he added. 

The British PM also pledged not to undermine the bloc's standards. 

"We will not engage in some cut-throat race to the bottom. We are not leaving the EU to undermine European standards," Johnson said in a speech on post-Brexit relations with the EU in the London borough of Greenwich.

"We will not engage in any kind of dumping, whether commercial or social or environmental. And don't just listen to what I say or what we say, look at what we do."

Brexit means Brexit

Johnson rejected EU insistence on full alignment with Brussels as the "price of free trade."

"I see no need to bind ourselves to an agreement with the EU. We will restore full sovereign controls over our borders, immigration, competition, subsidy rules, procurement, data protection," Johnson said.

He said the UK was not a European power by treaty or by law, "but by irrevocable facts of history and language and culture and instinct and sentiment."

The prime minister spoke in the Painted Hall at the Royal Naval College, where 18th century paintings celebrate Britain's prosperity and naval power.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the bloc needs to be more competitiveImage: Reuters/H. Hanschke

Merkel open to EU treaty changes

German Chancellor Angela Merkel meanwhile said that the EU27 must become more competitive now that Britain has left. She said she would be prepared to back changes to the EU's Lisbon Treaty — which forms the constitutional basis of the bloc — if necessary.

"I could well imagine treaty changes should this be necessary," Merkel said during a news conference with visiting Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

"We are required in view of Britain's exit to strengthen our competitiveness and to act more quickly."

Read more: My return to Brexit Scotland for auld lang syne

kw/ng (AP, dpa, Reuters)

DW sends out a daily selection of the day's news and features. Sign up here.