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News - 18 February 2020 (LeftFootForward)

Frost warms up No Deal in ‘divergent’ free trade speech

No need for post-transition UK-EU alignment, says negotiator; others less convinced.

Government negotiator David Frost’s vision for future UK-EU trade looks like a set-up for No Deal on 31 December 2020 when the Brexit transition period ends.

The civil servant, policy adviser and career diplomat told an audience in Belgium at ULB Brussels University on 17 February, in a speech larded with rhetoric and obfuscation, that the Tory stance on independence and sovereignty post-transition is non-negotiable.

“It is central to our vision that we must have the ability to set laws that suit us – to claim the right that every other non-EU country in the world has. So to think that we might accept EU supervision on so-called level playing field issues simply fails to see the point of what we are doing,” Frost said.

“That isn’t a simple negotiating position which might move under pressure – it is the point of the whole project.”

The UK has already advised the World Trade Organisation that it will not seek any extension to the transition period. It follows that if no compromise can be reached, the UK must fall out of the Brexit transition period with no EU trade deal.

Frost also suggested it was “absurd” to claim that the UK would have to be aligned with the EU should it want a free trade agreement.

“Sovereignty is about the ability to get your own rules right in a way that suits our own conditions. Much of the debate about whether Britain will diverge from the EU I think misses this point,” he said.

Frost, like others in Boris Johnson’s government, formerly worked for the pro-Brexit, free-marketeer thinktank Open Europe.

David Henig, director of the UK trade policy project at the European Centre for International Political Economy, delivered a thread on Frost’s opening gambit via Twitter, criticising it for logical fallacies and an “unnecessary” attack on economists.

“The fatal flaw in the speech … is in the suggestion that an independent country has the absolute right and indeed, on this reading, a requirement to set laws that suit it with no outside interference. When for all sorts of reasons it cannot be that absolute,” he wrote.

Henig added that nation-states can and do make treaties that limit their rights — or sovereignty — for some greater good, with the 2019 Withdrawal Agreement being just one example.

“The speech goes on improbably to claim that Free Trade Agreements are the perfect form of treaty between sovereign countries. Even though they differ significantly from each other,” he said...


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