If UK negotiators think the European side are stalling on “easy” issues, the Prime Minister will assess whether to halt talks and focus instead on preparing for an “orderly” exit to current arrangements in December.
The ultimatum was contained in a 40-page opening bid for the talks which start on Monday. It also emerged that an economic assessment of the trade terms proposed by the UK may not be published at all, although there will be a consultation.
Saying that there is “limited, but sufficient time” for broad agreements in some areas by June, the document said: “If that does not seem to be the case at the June meeting, the Government will need to decide whether the UK’s attention should move away from negotiations and focus solely on continuing domestic preparations to exit the transition period in an orderly fashion.”
The UK team will require “good progress … on the least controversial areas”, which are expected to include an agreement in financial services to safeguard the City of London and broad agreement for free trade in manufactured goods.
This will be seen as Britain trying to impose a sequence that favours its priorities, unlike in 2017 when the EU pushed British interests to the back of the timetable.
French demands for fishing rights to be discussed first will be rejected by the UK. It sees fishing as one of the trickier issues that need more time, along with the role of the European Court and the so-called “level playing field” rules.
In the Commons, Michael Gove said: “It is our aim to secure a comprehensive free trade agreement as well as agreement on questions such as fisheries, internal security and aviation.
“We are confident that those negotiations will lead to outcomes which work for both the UK and the EU. But this House, our European partners and, above all, the British people should be in no doubt: at the end of the Transition Period, on 31 December, the United Kingdom will fully recover its economic and political independence. We want the best possible trading relationship with the EU but in pursuit of a deal we will not trade away our sovereignty.”
There were no big surprises in the mandate issued by the Government — but the gap between the EU and UK opening positions was clear.
On the key level playing field issues of environment standards and worker rights, the UK document rejects alignment with EU laws and says: “The agreement should include reciprocal commitments not to weaken or reduce the level of protection”.
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss was meeting Donald Trump’s trade envoy Robert Lighthizer in Whitehall today, symbolising the UK’s willingness to do deals outside the EU.
Earlier Mr Gove later told MPs: “Whatever the outcomes of these negotiations, the transition period will end at the end of this year.”