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Tuesday 4 February 2020

The nation’s new life outside the European Union felt real yesterday as Boris set out his negotiating pitch towards a future deal championing free trade. Excellent timing, Britain takes its seat at the World Trade Organisation today for the first time ever.

The prime minister delivered a warning of protectionists’ power in the EU capital in a powerful speech at the National Maritime Museum. “There is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules, any more than the EU should be obliged to accept UK rules,” Said the PM.

Boris is pushing heavily for a Canada-style agreement, removing tariffs on goods, the ball is in the EU’s court.

Dominic Raab doubled down on the prime minister’s comments: “We will have full economic and political independence over our laws.”  

Naturally, Michel Barnier struck a more cautious tone. One key area of trade negotiations will transpire to be the much-loathed EU common-fisheries policy. “Our free trade agreement must include an agreement on fisheries. This agreement should provide for continued, reciprocal access to markets and to waters with stable quota shares” said the EU’s negotiator in the bloc’s pitch to Britain.

“We will negotiate in a fair and transparent manner, but we will defend EU interests, and the interests of our citizens, right until the end,” said Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen.

Brussels is paranoid the UK will embark on a race to the bottom on standards, in an attempt to undercut the EU. Boris has been unequivocal on the fact this is not the case. During his speech he listed the many examples of where Britain has gone beyond Europe, before Europe.

That won’t stop the EU from pushing its own “level playing field” narrative as an excuse to get the UK to stay aligned and trapped within its regulations. They’re also determined to continue plundering our fishing stocks and open up Britain’s border to EU migrants.

Brussels did not of course insist on Canada – like Britain, wealthy, highly developed, well-regulated – aligning with the EU. The British case is different, argue Barnier and Von Der Leyen, the two European economies are far more enmeshed by virtue of geographic proximity.

If both sides stay on their current course, the reimposition of tariffs will be inevitable. If it comes to that the blame will lie with Brussels, its caution contrasts starkly with Boris’s optimism. He’s the champion of free trade and economic growth, the EU only cares about regulations for the purposes of power. It’s a classic contest of cynicism against virtue, light vs dark.

According to today’s Sun, Boris is deploying a “Mad Men” strategy, if Brussels continues to insist on a level playing field, it’s No Deal. This is why Boris talked-up an Australia-style deal at yesterday’s speech, which is pretty threadbare compared to Canada’s trade pact with the EU.

“Will he walk away? You just never know. That is what we want the EU to wonder, and that is what worked last year,” said a Boris ally yesterday.

There is still much positioning to be done, but the UK has put Brussels in a difficult corner. If the EU’s negotiators are as amazing as Remainers’ claims we’re about to be dazzled by something truly amazing. We’re not holding our breath though.

Quote of the day: “Thank you, goodbye, and good riddance”. The ambassador of Croatia to the EU’s farewell to her British counterpart. She apparently misunderstood the meaning of good riddance. Needless to say, the feeling’s mutual.