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Boris Johnson successfully signed a withdrawal agreement with the European Union towards the end of last year, with the inclusion of small amendments to the Irish backstop, an issue that was a thorn in the attempts of predecessor Theresa May to get her deal voted through the UK parliament. But the Prime Minister had no such problems, using the Conservative Party’s huge 80-seat majority gained when crushing political rivals in December’s general election to get his amended withdrawal agreement voted through by MPs and deliver on his promise to “get Brexit done” on January 31. The UK and EU quickly got trade talks underway, with Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost taking a team to Brussels to meet one led by Brussels counterpart Michel Barnier.
But already both sides have traded vicious insults over each other’s respective negotiating stances in talks, with huge cracks widening from bitter disagreements over a number of crucial demands being made in the post-Brexit agreement.
Alistair Jones, Associate Politics Professor, De Montfort University in Leicester, said the EU has offered no surprises with its negotiating strategy in trade talks, adding “there was never going to be much room for improvement”.
But he is critical of the UK’s approach in expecting the EU to bow down to a number of its demands, some of which he describes as “beyond audacious”.
Mr Jones told Express.co.uk: “The EU has been its usual legalistic self. Noting the need to aggregate the position of 27 countries into a common negotiating position, there was never going to be much room for flexibility.
“The UK’s position has been the typical British exceptionalism, where Frost has adopted the Johnson approach of expecting the EU to bow down to the UK demands.
“As an example, the UK wants to have input into any future application by a third party to join the EU, and for the EU to take into consideration UK interests in any such negotiations. This goes beyond audacious.
“The UK has refused point blank to let the ECJ (European Court of Justice) have any role in the UK post-Brexit, but expects the EU to bow down to such fanciful demands.”
Mr Johnson’s insistence on a trade deal being signed with the EU before the end of the transition period on December 31 and his refusal to ask for an extension to this deadline appears to be adding increasing tension to proceedings.
The move has infuriated the EU, with Brussels warning the tight deadline leaves no time to get a comprehensive deal in place.
Following the latest round of negotiations, Mr Frost warned the EU and his counterpart Mr Barnier to change their stance in a number of areas before the next round of talks on June 1.
But Professor Alex de Ruyter, Director of the Centre for Brexit Studies at Birmingham City University, has issued a chilling warning to the Prime Minister and his negotiating team.
He told this website: “Will the EU change its current position? This presupposes that both sides have equal bargaining power. They don’t.
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“The UK is a middle-sized economy with about 65 million people. The EU is a trade bloc with a population of about 450 million. So no, I don’t expect the EU to change their stance.
“If we look at the key areas of disagreement; fisheries and so-called ‘level playing field’ provisions.
“Fishing (whilst a totemic issue for the UK, despite its trivial economic contribution at about 0.01 percent of our GDP) is also equally totemic for EU countries with equally strong maritime traditions; the Netherlands, France, Spain, Denmark, for example.
“Regarding the EU insisting on the UK abiding by level playing field provisions around, for example, labour laws, state aid, and environmental standards etc.
“This is an existential issue for the EU in that an ex-member state cannot be seen to extract favourable concessions on Single Market access, least other EU countries such as Poland and Hungary kick-off and start demanding similar treatment.
“At that point, the whole Single Market really could unravel.”
Tim Bale, Deputy Director of the UK in a Changing Europe think tank and Professor of Politics at the Queen Mary University of London, said the EU could relent on some aspects of the post-Brexit trade deal, but warned it will not start handing out favourable terms to a country that is no longer one of the bloc’s member states.
He said: “This is a negotiation – the EU will make concessions in some areas, maybe even on something contentious like fishing.
“But what it won’t compromise on is the principle that you don’t get to enjoy most of the benefits of belonging to the EU once you’re no longer a member state.”
Mr Jones added: “The EU have been very clear that they are sticking to the documentation, such as the political declaration, signed off by the UK and the EU.
“That cannot be changed, despite British requests to do so.”
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