The UK “won’t blink” in the crucial talks on post-Brexit economic arrangements, Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost warned his EU colleagues in an interview with the Mail on Sunday, insisting that the UK would not become a “client state” of Brussels by accepting its restrictions on fishing rights and vetoes of British laws.
In his first interview since he assumed office in January, Frost stressed the EU needed to realise that Johnson’s Cabinet was adopting a more determined and balanced approach than Theresa May’s government.
“We came in after a government and negotiating team that had blinked and had its bluff called at critical moments and the EU had learned not to take our word seriously”, Frost started off, adding that what Britain has of late been doing is “to get them to realise that we mean what we say and they should take our position seriously”.
Lord Frost said Brussels “have not accepted that in key areas of our national life we want to be able to control our own laws and do things our way and use the freedoms that come after Brexit”, stressing the country would in no way “compromise on the fundamentals of having control over our own laws”.
He went on to emotionally outline what being independent is about and what British people voted for:
“We are not going to accept level playing field provisions that lock us in to the way the EU do things; we are not going to accept provisions that give them control over our money or the way we can organise things here in the UK and that should not be controversial”.
Frost noted that Downing Street has been making extensive preparations to ensure that businesses and citizens are ready for the end of the transition period in any scenario – “outside the customs union, outside the single market, and outside the EU”.
“Obviously, lots of preparation was done last year, we are ramping up again and have been for some time under Michael Gove’s authority”, Frost detailed, stressing that most importantly, the UK “wants to get back the powers to control our borders”.
He said Britain isn’t ruling out any type of trade agreement:
“If we can reach an agreement that regulates trade like Canada’s, great. If we can’t, it will be an Australian-like trading agreement and we are fully ready for that”, he said.
‘Re-Gripping the Agenda’ in Run-up to Eighth Round of Talks
Frost’s comments come ahead of his counterpart Michel Barnier’s arrival in London for a fresh round of talks on Tuesday.
This week’s round of talks, the eighth, marks the final phase of the negotiations, with Lord Frost’s team calling for “more realism” from the EU to break the deadlock and meet the transition period deadline for a comprehensive bilateral deal.
The bullish Brexit rhetoric is part of an attempt by Johnson’s government to “re-grip the agenda” after a tumultuous summer marked by endless U-turns on issues such as COVID policy and A-level exam grades.
The other day, Frost even issued a warning to Brussels suggesting the bloc’s demands on fishing and state subsidies could “limit the progress” potentially made next week.
EU’s Stance ‘Limiting Potential Progress’
Indicating that the UK could indeed be weighing a no-deal divorce from the EU, Frost said that London has been clear about its stance from the very beginning:
“The EU still insists we change our positions on state aid and fisheries if there are to be substantive textual discussions on anything else”.
“We will negotiate constructively but the EU’s stance may, realistically, limit the progress we can make next week”, he concluded.
Frost tweeted the comments after his European counterpart Michel Barnier said that while the UK can retain control over the waters washing its coasts, “the fish which are inside those waters” are “another story”.
The bloc has been aiming to retain access for its fishing boats, while Downing Street insists that British trawlers should by all means be given top priority.
Separately, Brussels is seeking a “level playing field” on state aid rules that would virtually tie Britain to EU regulations after the transition period expires in late December.