After more than two years of often chaotic and always complex negotiations the Brexit withdrawal agreement finally came into effect on 1 February.
Now the clock is ticking down for the UK and EU to agree the future partnership and the first round of negotiations starts on 2 March. However, with both sides putting down thick red lines and Boris Johnson threatening to lead the UK out of negotiations as early as June, the coming months will be a test for the under pressure negotiating teams.
Michel Barnier outlined the EU’s position and announced that the Union will not conclude a trade deal with Britain at “any price”. At the core of Barnier’s negotiating mandate is his position that the UK should uphold the EU’s standards on issues such as labour rights and environmental protections - the so called "level playing field." Furthermore, Barnier said that due to the proximity and interdependence of the EU and the UK the conditions for a trade deal between the two parties could not be equal to those between the EU and Canada - a blow for the UK government which has heralded the Canada deal as a template for an agreement with the EU.
In a response to Barnier’s statements, the UK government published its views on the negotiating strategy for a trade deal with the EU in the document “Our approach to the Future Relationship with the EU” on 27 February. The document not only sets out the parameters of the UK’s negotiation strategy with the EU including, but also its approach to interpreting the "level playing field."
Contrary to the EU’s wishes, the UK insists on having full control over its regulations while maintaining its interpretation of high standards. In fact, the document stipulates that the UK government will not negotiate any arrangement in which it does not have control over its laws. Furthermore, the document expresses the UK government’s desire for a comprehensive free trade agreement comparable to the EU-Canada agreement.
Despite both parties appearing to be oceans apart, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said in the House of Commons that Britain is: "Confident that those negotiations will lead to outcomes which work for both the U.K. and the EU."
Whether this comes to pass in the coming months will have to be seen.