With Brexit trade talks set to begin, the French foreign minister has given his prediction for the tone of the discussions.
Speaking at a security conference in Munich, Jean-Yves Le Drian observed: “I think that on trade issues and the mechanism for future relations, which we are going to start on, we are going to rip each other apart. But that is part of negotiations, everyone will defend their own interests.”
Although the United Kingdom formally left the European Union at the end of January, its trading relationship with the EU has yet to be decided.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out his aims in a speech at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich earlier this month, stating: “We want a free trade agreement, similar to Canada's, but in the very unlikely event that we do not succeed then our trade will have to be based on our existing Withdrawal Agreement with the EU.”
The fighting tone of Mr Le Drian’s comments come after Number 10 rejected any suggestion that the UK would closely align with Brussels-made regulation in order to maintain easy access into European markets. Mr Johnson said that Britain should not be obliged to adhere to 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.”
With the November deadline for negotiations slowly approaching, Mr Le Drian observed: “Let us hope that it is done as quickly as possible even if there are many subjects and that we have substantial points to manage.”
As the former President of the Brittany region of France, where fishing accounts for a significant proportion of the economy, the French foreign minister said: “I have one [point] in particular (...) which is the question of fish”.
Although fishing accounts for 0.1 per cent of the UK’s GDP, to many in Britain it holds both symbolic and economic significance. With recent battles between French and British fishermen over catchment areas fresh in the memory, and the longer history of the British-Icelandic “Cod Wars”, a breakthrough in fishing policy will be seen as a bellwether for Boris Johnson’s wider negotiations.
In preliminary talks, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has reportedly firmly rejected any suggestion that companies in the City of London could be given permanent and broad access to the EU Market.
Furthermore, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has recently criticised Boris Johnson’s negotiating policy. The body stated that, with almost 80 per cent of all the food imported by British retailers coming from the EU, it desired a zero-tariff trade deal with co-ordination on VAT, customs and excise procedures.
However, with the pound nearing a post-referendum high against the euro and EU nations embroiled in a funding row over the £10.1bn (€12bn, $13bn) hole left in the institution’s budget by Brexit, Boris Johnson cannot be said to be the only one feeling the Brexit pressure.