EU threats? This is the reason behind Brussels’ Brexit tactics, says STEPHEN POLLARD

Boris

Who would bet against Boris completing a deal by December 31? (Image: Getty)

As it turned out, that deadline was indeed missed. But the delay was only marginal – we left last month – and the bigger story was that Mr Johnson had indeed been able to ­negotiate an agreement that had the support of the Brexiteers who had scuppered Mrs May’s attempts. 

That history is worth remembering as we gear up to the even bigger task this year of negotiating a trade deal. 

The Prime Minister has pledged to agree one by December 31 – or, if need be, to walk away. 

Once again, almost no one believes he will pull it off. 

Worse, at the weekend the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said that ­negotiations will be so tough that “we are going to rip each other apart”. 

It’s not exactly what you might call bonhomie. 

His words have caused all sorts of angst and anger. 

But time after time the Boris-sceptics have been proved wrong. 

As Prime Minister, he has twice confounded them: securing the Withdrawal Agreement and winning the election with a landslide. 

Who would bet against him also managing to deliver a trade deal? 

Last night David Frost, the UK’s chief trade negotiator, set out the Government’s vision of our future relationship with the EU. 

Mr Frost is the man who rescued negotiations over the Withdrawal Agreement. 

He knows exactly how to play the diplomatic game that such negotiations involve. 

Both sides initially set out the most they hope to achieve. 

But if they are serious about reaching an agreement, they know they have to compromise. 

There is no doubt that both Britain and the EU are serious. 

Michel Barnier

Michel Barnier (Image: Getty)

For the UK, it would be bizarre not to try to reach an agreement with the huge trading bloc on our doorstep. 

Conversely, on the day we left the EU we became, overnight, its biggest trading partner. 

Of course it wants an agreement with us. 

Mr Frost’s counterpart, Michel Barnier, has said that the EU’s top priorities are fishing, security and maintaining “fair” trading conditions for European companies. 

He means the UK adopting EU standards on taxes, workers’ rights and environmental standards so we cannot undercut EU regulations and lure companies to the UK. 

But we left the EU precisely so we could be free to set our own standards – which, as it happens, have long been higher and better than the EU’s. 

In the past, Mr Frost has conducted his negotiations behind closed doors. 

Last night was his first public speech. 

It set out our preferred deal, which would reflect those with Canada, South Korea and Japan. 

We are not looking for a “bespoke” deal but simply the same terms the EU has offered to others. 

There are any number of obstacles but a key issue will be the role of the European Court of Justice. 

For the EU, the ECJ should decide on any disputes that arise after a deal is agreed. 

For the UK, one of the whole points of Brexit was to free ourselves of the reach of the ECJ. 

But while that may seem an insurmountable problem, it’s one example of what Mr Frost means by simply wanting the same terms as other countries have – which have involved other bodies settling disputes, and not the ECJ. 

One issue likely to be difficult is fishing rights. 

Fishing amounts to just 0.04 percent of our GDP but is hugely symbolic.

On January 1, 2021 we will leave the Common Fisheries Policy. 

That gives us the right to determine who fishes in our waters. 

The French have said that if EU boats are blocked, they would demand that the EU prevents British trawlers from selling their catches in the EU. 

According to Monsieur Le Drian, “Fishing cannot in any way be a bargaining chip in the negotiations.” 

We want an annual negotiation with the EU on access to our waters. 

Agreeing the easy things is… well, easy. 

It’s agreeing the seemingly impossible issues that is the real purpose of negotiation. 

That’s why, although both sides make threats – and they need to be credible to have any purpose – the point is to avoid having to carry them out. 

So yes, we are absolutely right to make clear that if we can’t agree on a deal, we will walk away without one. 

But there is every reason to be optimistic. 

It’s in both of our interests to agree – and to both of our detriments if we can’t. 

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