Everything you need to know about Boris Johnson's plans to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU

  • The UK government has published its plans to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.
  • The document reveals a hardline plan to negotiate a bare-bones deal with the EU.
  • If the EU refuses to agree, Johnson has committed to cut off all existing trade arrangements with Europe.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Boris Johnson’s government on Thursday revealed its plans for post-Brexit trade talks with the European Union.

The negotiating mandate — titles “The Future Relationship with the EU: The UK’s Approach to Negotiations” — is 36-pages long and spells out the UK government’s hard-line negotiating position ahead of talks getting underway.

UK and EU negotiators have just over ten months to negotiate and ratify a free trade agreement before the Brexit transition period expires at the end of December.

This means negotiators will have to overcome a series of thorny issues at rapid speed to avoid Britain leaving without a deal without all the economic and political chaos that would cause.

Here’s everything you need to know about Boris Johnson’s negotiating plan.

What does the UK want from a trade deal with the EU?


The prime minister wants a pretty basic trade deal with the EU, akin to the one Brussels recently negotiated with Canada. The UK mandate published today states: “This Agreement should be on the lines of the FTAs agreed by the EU in recent years such as Canada and with other friendly countries.”

The UK government hopes to negotiate tariff-free trade. However, the prime minister is clear that whatever happens in negotiations, decades of frictionless trade between Britain and the EU will come to an end, meaning there will be significant new costs and barriers for businesses.

Will Johnson’s deal be easy to negotiate?

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The EU says Britain can have a simple Canada-style free trade deal if it likes.

However, the bloc argues that because Britain’s geographical proximity to the EU is much different to Canada (there are over 3,500 miles between Brussels and Ottawa, whereas the UK-EU channel-crossing is just 30), Britain will have to follow a stricter set of trade rules to Canada and maintain what’s known as a “level playing field” with the EU. EU negotiators believe this will stop the UK undercutting the EU by lowering standards in areas like the workplace and the environment.

Brussels argues that the UK government committed to a level playing field when both sides agreed a Political Declaration on their future relationship last year. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, this week said: “Promises were made to cooperate with us, to make sure there’s no form of unfair competition. The text in the Political Declaration needs to be properly respected and implemented to the letter in a legal framework.”

So the EU is demanding something Boris Johnson won’t agree to?

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Yes. The UK government absolutely rejects the idea that Britain should have to sign up to EU rules. UK officials have accused the EU of misinterpreting the terms of the agreement the UK parliament ratified last month.

Johnson has said he would rather walk away from negotiations without a trade deal than sign Britain up to EU rules. The prime minister insists that he has no plans to undercut the EU, and Brussels should take him at his word.

What other sticking points will there be?


The mandate published today makes clear that the UK government will not accept EU judges overseeing an agreement between the two sides. It says: “All these arrangements should have their own appropriate and precedented governance arrangements, with no role for the [European] Court of Justice.” However, the EU wants the European Court of Justice to deal with disputes which arise from any trading arrangement.

There is also the issue of fishing rights. Johnson has insisted that Britain will seize full control of its waters as part of Brexit yet the EU wants to maintain its current access to Britain’s waters. 

Could negotiations quickly fall apart?

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Yes — and the mandate published today actually sets out a timeframe for when this could happen.

Johnson’s government says that it will decide in June — around half-way through the 11-month negotiating period — whether there has been enough progress to justify continuing with talks. If it decides that there has not been enough progress, then it will walk away and focus on preparing for life without a trade deal with the EU. 

So what will happen if the UK fails to agree a deal?


Leaving without a deal would cause severe disruption. 

The Institute For Government think tank earlier this year said that the impact on British businesses of having no free trade deal with the EU “would be almost identical” to leaving the EU without any agreement at all.

The UK and EU would still trade with each other but it would be on the most basic and costly terms, meaning there would be significant tariffs on goods going both ways across the channel. There would also be swathes of checks in other areas, creating delays at Britain’s ports and shortages of basic goods in UK shops.

Is Boris Johnson bluffing?


Unlike his predecessor Theresa May, who was indecisive when faced by the fundamental trade-offs involved in Brexit, Johnson is clear that the top priority of the UK government is securing Britain’s “independence” from the EU — even if it damages the economy and makes life more difficult for British businesses.

The government is adamant that it must deliver what it believes the British public voted for when it vote to leave the EU in 2016: breaking away from EU institutions and having full control over its own laws, trade, and immigration.

It’s possible that this position is designed to give the UK leverage in negotiations, and in practice Johnson will be prepared to compromise with the EU in order to avoid the chaos of cutting off the UK’s current trading relationship with the EU.

However, Johnson and his most senior advisers believe he has a mandate to break free from the EU, whatever the economic cost.

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