Boris Johnson Gives EU Four Months to Make a Brexit Deal — Or He Walks

Robert Hutton, Alex Morales and Jessica Shankleman

(Bloomberg) --

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the European Union he’ll walk away from the negotiating table in June if it’s not clear he’s going to get a Canada-style trade agreement with the bloc. The pound fell.

London’s negotiating mandate for the next stage of Brexit, released on Thursday, was in many areas close to what the EU published on Tuesday. The main differences were around how closely it will have to stick to EU regulations -- the so-called level playing field, how the deal will be structured and governed, and what access to its waters the U.K. will give other countries’ fishing fleets.

“We want the best possible trading relationship with the EU -- but in the pursuit of the deal, we will not trade away our sovereignty,” Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told the House of Commons on Thursday.

The U.K. is setting a tough timetable for the negotiations, saying it wants the broad outline of an agreement by June so it can assess whether the talks are on course to succeed. It will then decide whether to continue or “focus solely” on preparing to leave the EU’s regulatory orbit without a deal on Dec. 31. The competing U.K. and EU documents show where the arguments will be when talks start on Monday.

The U.K.’s emphasis on sovereignty risks making it harder to reach a deal with the EU. The pound fell after the document was released, erasing gains against the dollar and extending losses against the euro.

Canada’s deal removed tariffs on 98% of goods, but didn’t require the country to join the EU’s single market, apply the bloc’s rules, or allow for free movement of people.

The Canada, Australia Models for Post-Brexit Trade: QuickTake

The EU argues Britain’s size and proximity means simply replicating that agreement is unreasonable. The U.K. argues that neither obstacle is necessarily a factor in trade talks.

“Geography is no reason to undermine democracy,” Gove told Parliament. “To be clear, we will not be seeking to dynamically align with EU laws, on EU terms governed by EU laws and EU institutions.”

The U.K. said it won’t agree to EU institutions, including the bloc’s Court of Justice, having jurisdiction in the U.K. It also wants the right to apply its own policies on taxes and state subsidies.

The EU argues that position is a shift from the commitments Britain made in the Political Declaration, the non-binding part of its Withdrawal Agreement with the bloc.

The U.K. wants to be clear of EU labor and environmental regulation, and the bloc’s rules on state aid, but Brussels argues Britain should continue to abide by its rules, and be policed by the European Court of Justice. To Johnson’s government, that is unacceptable.

Both sides, however, say they are committed to reaching a broad trade deal. While the EU sees Johnson’s June deadline as a stock-taking opportunity, it has said it will keep trying to get a deal until the last possible moment.

“We want an ambitious and fair partnership with the U.K. in the future,” Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, tweeted. “We will stick to all our prior commitments in the Political Declaration.”

The details of the U.K. mandate show that, on financial services, it’s not looking for a closer relationship than a non-EU country would expect. But Britain does want safeguards against the EU suddenly withdrawing the right for U.K. financial services companies to trade in the bloc.

“A compromise will no doubt be difficult,” said Sam Lowe, of the Center for European Reform. But “what is perhaps surprising is just how aligned the EU and U.K. positions are with regard to the nature of the eventual trade agreement.”

(Updates with Barnier comment in 12th paragraph.)

--With assistance from Edward Evans and Ian Wishart.

To contact the reporters on this story: Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net;Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net;Jessica Shankleman in London at jshankleman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Edward Evans, Thomas Penny

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