France has warned Britain to expect a bruising battle with the EU in the forthcoming negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves le Drian predicted the two sides would ‘rip each other apart’ as they strove for advantage in the talks. Speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference, he made clear that Brussels will defend its interests when negotiations begin next month.
He said: ‘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.’
Mr le Drian, a close ally of President Emmanuel Macron, is the latest senior EU figure to warn that the negotiations will be difficult.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and chief negotiator Michel Barnier have both cast doubt on Boris Johnson’s aim to reach a comprehensive agreement by the end of the year when the Brexit transition period runs out.
The EU has repeatedly warned Britain cannot expect to enjoy continued ‘high quality’ market access if it insists on diverging from EU social and environmental standards.
There is expected to be a particularly tough fight over fishing rights, with the EU insisting continued access to UK waters must form part of any agreement.
Mr Johnson, in turn, has said the UK will act as an ‘independent coastal state’ taking control of its own fisheries.
Northern Ireland seeks generosity from EU
The EU should allow vital concessions like zero tariffs in a spirit of generosity during trade talks, retailers in Northern Ireland said.
Higher costs and less availability will hit the region hardest unless extra measures are taken mitigating the effects of Brexit, the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC), which represents larger businesses, said.
It urged the UK Government to establish import and export processes and all necessary infrastructure now.
Director Aodhan Connolly said: ‘We need the UK government to work with us to deliver key mitigations that could reduce the impact on consumers and retailers.
‘And we need a generosity of spirit from the EU to allow these mitigations to happen.’
The lobby group called for pragmatic solutions on compliance and regulatory checks that will apply from January 2021 once the Brexit transition period ends.
Almost 80% of all the food that UK retailers import comes from the EU, making the negotiations particularly important for such essentials, traders said.
Mr Connolly added: ‘Without the mitigations recommended within this report, there will be higher costs and less availability for Northern Ireland consumers and this will hit us hardest.
‘We already have half of the discretionary income of Great British households and so our households in Northern Ireland simply can’t afford these costs rises.
‘We are talking about costs that have simply never been there before.
‘It is a simple equation that if the new costs are higher than the profit margin then either the product or that particular business model needs to change or becomes unviable.
‘We also already have between 12 and 18 hours’ less shelf life on some products than shops in Great Britain due to our geographical location. Any further delays affects availability.’
Measures the lobby group is seeking include:
- A zero tariff trade deal
- Co-operation with the EU to minimise trade friction
- Coordination on VAT, customs and excise procedures
- Advance information on new checks and paperwork
- Timely construction of necessary infrastructure at UK ports.