Boris Johnson has said the UK will hire more trade negotiation officials if needed for what he called “the great multi-dimensional game of chess” that is the UK’s trade negotiations in 2020.
Setting out his aims for the trade negotiations that will follow the UK’s exit from the EU on Friday, the prime minister said the country was “limbering up to use nerves and muscles and instincts that this country has not had to use for half a century” in trade talks both with the European bloc and other countries.
Johnson said he the government was “ready” to undertake more than one negotiation at once, with talks planned with the United States as well as the countries that make up the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Commonwealth.
The National Audit Office warned last year that the section of the Department for International Trade tasked with overseeing work to open up overseas markets to UK business after Brexit was still 20% below its target staffing level. However, Johnson said today international trade secretary Liz Truss “tells me that she has the teams in place” to undertake the negotiations.
“She has the teams in place, she has the lawyers, economists trade policy experts, and if we don’t have enough and they don’t perform, believe me, we’ll hire some more,” he said.
On future trade deals, Johnson said: “There is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection, the environment, or anything similar any more than the EU should be obliged to accept UK rules.
"The UK will maintain the highest standards in these areas – better, in many respects, than those of the EU – without the compulsion of a treaty and it is vital to stress this now.
"We have often been told that we must choose between full access to the EU market, along with accepting its rules and courts on the Norway model, or an ambitious free trade agreement, which opens up markets and avoids the full panoply of EU regulation, on the example of Canada.
"We have made our choice: we want a free trade agreement, similar to Canada’s but in the very unlikely event that we do not succeed, then our trade will have to be based on our existing withdrawal agreement with the EU."
Canada struck a tariff-free trade agreement for 98% of the goods it sells to the EU, with an independent arbitration body in place to ensure that they meet Brussels standards.
However, the European Commission has insisted that sort of deal is not on offer for the UK, given its greater geographical proximity to the EU.
The commission has today recommended that the European Council open negotiations on a new partnership with the UK. As well as trade and economic cooperation, the commission’s plan also covers law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, foreign policy, and security and defence.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said there would be no mutual recognition of rules, and goods entering the EU will be subject to regulatory checks.