Barnier and Boris go into battle in Brussels

Monday 3rd February 2020

The UK has only been out of the European Union for two days and the gloves are now clearly off, as the process of securing a trade deal between the two sides begins in earnest.

Boris Johnson travels took on the continent today in bullish mood, buoyed up by having ‘got Brexit done’ as he promised, albeit still referring in conciliatory mood to the bloc as ‘friends’. Today will be the beginning of the testing of that friendship, as the EU seeks to maintain its integrity,and Johnson attempts to flex his economic muscle.

The two sides start the process from opposing points of view. The EU is demanding that trade talks can only be successful if the UK signs up to various EU benchmarks on standards in both the workplace and the environment arguing that because they are geographically so close, anything else would lead to an un-level playing field and competitive advantage for the UK.

Barnier is likely to make demands regarding access to British fishing waters, which Brexiteers always saw as non-negotiable and Johnson will push for a Canada-syle arrangement which the EU say is implausible.

Johnson’s sentiments are clear,“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 hard negotiating starts now, especially if the final outcome is to be ratified by the November 27 deadline and a reversion to WTO rules is to be averted.

It is also poignant to remember, that while Johnson has the luxury of a majority of 80, his own backbenchers are already flexing their muscles. Recent history proves that backbenchers can bring down PM’s if they don’t do their bidding, and at home Johnson is already facing rebellions over the infamous HS2 railway link, as well as his decision to offer Huawei the 5G contract.

Consequently, the prime minister will be aware that he will come under great pressure if he does not come back from Brussels with a trade agreement that pleases the Tory masses.

However, it will be extremely difficult for him to forge a way forward if he refuses to be bound by any of Europe’s rules and regulations, and he will be keeping a beady eye on the FTSE index to see how business is rating his achievements.

Johnson has been spouting on about a new ‘Golden Age’ for the UK, post-Brexit, if that seems to be falling into economic stagnation, or recession, he will have to re-think, quick smart.

Although a majority of 80 is seen as an impenetrable amour for Number 10, the prime minister would be wise to be aware of his vulnerability from the back benches.

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