UK warns EU on Brexit: We won't blink first

LONDON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain will not blink first in Brexit trade negotiations with the European Union and is not scared of a no-deal exit at the end of the year, the country’s top Brexit negotiator warned the bloc on Sunday.

FILE PHOTO: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Europe adviser David Frost leaves the European Commission headquarters after a meeting with officials in Brussels, Belgium, October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Britain left the EU on Jan. 31 but talks have so far made little headway on agreeing a new trade deal for when a status-quo transition arrangement ends in December.

“We came in after a government and negotiating team that had blinked and had its bluff called at critical moments and the EU had learned not to take our word seriously,” negotiator David Frost told the Mail on Sunday.

“So a lot of what we are trying to do this year is to get them to realise that we mean what we say and they should take our position seriously,” he was quoted as saying.

Talks are due to resume in London on Tuesday but they have stalled over Britain’s insistence that it have full autonomy over state aid and its demands over fishing.

Britain says the EU is dragging its feet in talks and has failed to fully accept that it is now an independent country.

“We are not going to be a client state. We are not going to compromise on the fundamentals of having control over our own laws,” Frost told the Mail. “We are not going to accept level playing field provisions that lock us in to the way the EU do things.”

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“That’s what being an independent country is about, that’s what the British people voted for and that’s what will happen at the end of the year, come what may,” Frost said.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the week ahead would be a wake-up call for the EU.

“We’ve got to a position where there’s only two points really that are holding us back,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme.

UK fisheries had been “pretty much decimated” as a result of EU membership, he said, and the bloc wanted to keep British access to its waters “permanently low”.

“That can’t be right,” he said.

On state aid, Raab said Britain had led the charge against government intervention since the 1980s, but the issue was “an absolutely critical element of policy making”.

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At heart, Britain is pressing one of the EU’s most sensitive buttons – the fear that a post-Brexit Britain could become a much more agile, deregulated free-market competitor on its border by using selective state aid.

“More and more people have come to the conclusion that Brexit ideology trumps Brexit pragmatism in the UK government,” said one EU diplomat.

“If the UK really wanted to jump off the Brexit cliff edge for ideological reasons, there would be no way for the EU to stop this,” the diplomat said. “If, on the other hand, the UK’s approach became more pragmatic and realistic, there would probably be a good chance to save the negotiations and agree on a deal.”

Frost said a lot of preparation had been done for a possible exit without a trade deal.

“I don’t think that we are scared of this at all,” Frost said. “If we can reach an agreement that regulates trade like Canada’s, great. If we can’t, it will be an Australian-like trading agreement and we are fully ready for that.”

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Paul Sandle in London and Padraic Halpin in Dublin; Editing by William Schomberg and Mark Potter