The UK is currently attempting to thrash out a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, having vowed not to extend the transition period that runs out at the end of the year. The negotiations are taking place virtually in response to the coronavirus outbreak. But little progress has been made over the past few months, as the two sides fail to agree on key issues such as fishing and border checks in Northern Ireland.
Earlier this week the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost accused Brussels of treating the UK as an “unworthy” partner by offering a low-quality trade agreement that would force Britain to “bend to EU norms”.
In a stark letter to his EU counterpart Michel Barnier, Mr Frost said Brussels’ proposal that EU state aid rules be part of British law is “egregious” and “simply not a provision any democratic country could sign”.
The UK negotiators are vying for a similar trade deal to the one signed with Canada.
Previously, Boris Johnson has said when it comes to trade with the EU after Brexit: “We want a comprehensive free trade agreement, similar to Canada’s.”
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The deal struck between the EU and Canada, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), lifts 98 percent of tariffs on imports between the two parties, and was a significant move towards free trade.
But Boris Johnson wants to take the Canada-style agreement further, to include concessions on fishing, aviation, security and foreign policy coordination.
Fishing has become the main sticking point in the negotiations, as the EU is demanding access to Britain’s fishing waters.
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Another option being discussed is a Norway-style deal, which will leave the UK more closely tied with the EU.
Norway is not a member of the bloc, but it does operate within the European Economic Area (EEA) meaning it is also part of the single market and has very limited barriers to trade with the EU.
If the UK pursued such a route, it would mean its trade relations with its nearest neighbours could remain pretty much as they are now.
But Norway makes substantial contributions to the EU budget and has to follow most EU rules and laws – despite having no say over the regulations as it is not represented in any of the main European institutions.
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Such an agreement would give the UK power to set its own fishing rules however, as Norway is not part of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) or the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
The other option available to the UK is to operate on the basis of an Australian-style deal.
The EU does not have a FTA with Australia, though they are in talks to agree one, and currently mainly operate on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
Pursuing an Australia-style deal is effectively pursuing a no deal Brexit, with no trade agreement in place.
Alternatively, the UK negotiations could cave to all of the EU’s demands and effectively rejoin the bloc in all but name – by agreeing to a permanent transition.
This would involve surrendering British fishing waters, handing over vast sums of cash to the bloc and caving to Michel Barnier’s level playing field demands, which would see the UK continue to be bound by EU laws and regulations.