Brexit: Don’t let Britain become a permanent ‘client state’, MPs warn


Die-hard Tories last night warned an under-fire Boris Johnson that the UK could become a permanent ‘client state’ of the EU if British negotiators cave in to Brussels on fishing rights and the ‘level playing field’. 

A group of Conservative backbenchers urged the PM not to break the promises he made to Leave voters in last year’s General Election and the 2016 referendum on membership of the European Union.

With the UK’s chances of striking a post-Brexit trade deal with Brussels teetering, Brexit radicals fear that Mr Johnson has reportedly agreed to defer repatriating up to half of the fishing quotas for several years. 

British officials hit out French President Emmanuel Macron, who they accused of pushing talks to the brink of collapse by pressuring EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier to take a hardline stance. 

The French President has also been pushing for French trawlers to maintain their access to UK waters, and is said to have demanded a 10-year transition to any reduction in EU fishing access – which No10 finds unacceptable. A senior government official told the Times the proposal is ‘not something that we can agree to or sell’.

Mr Barnier, who has been in London this week to try to hash out a deal, has also called for further concessions from the UK on state aid, with Mr Macron determined to protect French firms from British competition. 

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith called fishing a ‘totemic issue’ and said the UK needed to start with control over ‘100 per cent’. He also insisted that Britain be treated like Norway, which sets its own fishing quotas. 

Theresa Villiers, the former Environment Secretary, added that Britain could be ‘locked in as a client state’ if it did not secure regulatory autonomy, calling this the ‘main means’ by which the EU could ‘tie us into their laws’.    

Sir Iain told the Telegraph: ‘We have to be treated like Norway is treated. We’re not looking for an increase, we are looking for control. From there, we negotiate with other countries what access they get. It’s as simple as that.’

Mrs Villiers called the failure to secure regulatory autonomy the ‘main threat to getting Brexit done’. ‘There are level playing field agreements in the Canada deal and arbitration mechanisms that are acceptable. But on the other end of the spectrum we are locked in as a client state,’ she told the newspaper.

Some Brexiteers told Mr Johnson to walk away. Andrew Bridgen said: ‘I am very worried that the Prime Minister is about to sign up to something unacceptable. If Boris sells us out on Brexit then he is finished, and I think he knows that.’ But former Tory minister Tobias Ellwood said: ‘It would be a retrograde step for Global Britain.’  

Theresa Villiers, the former Environment Secretary, added that Britain could be 'locked in as a client state' if it did not secure regulatory autonomy, calling this the 'main means' by which the EU could 'tie us into their laws'

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith called fishing a ‘totemic issue’ and said the UK needed to start with control over ‘100 per cent’. He also insisted that Britain be treated like Norway, which sets its own fishing quotas. Theresa Villiers, the former Environment Secretary, added that Britain could be ‘locked in as a client state’ if it did not secure regulatory autonomy, calling this the ‘main means’ by which the EU could ‘tie us into their laws’

Talks have also hit stalemate over fishing, where Mr Macron has been pushing for French trawlers to maintain their existing access to British waters. (Pictured, the PM and President Macron in London in June)

Talks have also hit stalemate over fishing, where Mr Macron has been pushing for French trawlers to maintain their existing access to British waters. (Pictured, the PM and President Macron in London in June)

Barnier's telling tweet: Mr Barnier is expected to return to Brussels this morning to warn the negotiations are in peril

Barnier’s telling tweet: Mr Barnier is expected to return to Brussels this morning to warn the negotiations are in peril

Tensions were ratcheted up after France’s Europe minister, Charles Beaune, yesterday publicly announced that Paris would veto any post-Brexit trade deal that went against French interests. 

Mr Macron, who faces re-election in 2022, has made lavish promises to French fishermen and is said to believe blocking a deal could bolster his popularity. Mr Beaune insisted Paris wanted a deal but added: ‘France is attached to the interests of its fishermen, is attached to the fair business conditions.

‘It’s also the case for our partners that if, if there were a deal that isn’t good, which in our evaluation doesn’t correspond to those interests, we will oppose it. Yes each country has a veto, so it’s possible.’  

A UK source said: ‘At the start of the week we saw Macron agitating with other EU capitals that they were giving away too much. Then you see Barnier bringing this back and the whole process goes backwards. 

‘I think everyone can join the dots. We want a deal but it has to be on the basis that we are a sovereign country again. Some people still seem to be struggling with the concept that we are going to be an independent country setting our own rules. If it stays like that there will be no deal.’ 

It comes as the two sides’ chief negotiators announced yesterday they were putting the talks on ‘pause’ to allow political leaders to take stock. In a joint statement following the latest round of negotiations in London, Lord Frost and Mr Barnier said the conditions for an agreement had still not been met.

Mr Johnson will hold talks with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen this afternoon to try to rescue the process. But Lord Frost is said to believe there is little prospect of striking a post-Brexit trade deal unless EU leaders rein in Mr Macron and ultimately persuade him to back down.  

Boris Johnson was locked in a stand-off with Emmanuel Macron last night as Brexit talks teetered on the brink. British officials claimed the French president had pressured European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier to take a hardline stance

Boris Johnson was locked in a stand-off with Emmanuel Macron last night as Brexit talks teetered on the brink. British officials claimed the French president had pressured European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier to take a hardline stance

Mr Johnson was ready to accept the inclusion of 'non-regression clauses' into the deal, which would have guaranteed no cuts to current standards on state aid subsidies, workers' rights and environmental standards

Mr Macron, who faces re-election in 2022, has made lavish promises to French fishermen and is said to believe blocking a deal could bolster his popularity

Mr Johnson was ready to accept the inclusion of ‘non-regression clauses’ into the deal, which would have guaranteed no cuts to current standards on state aid subsidies, workers’ rights and environmental standards. Mr Macron, who faces re-election in 2022, has made lavish promises to French fishermen and is said to believe blocking a deal could bolster his popularity

A close ally of Emmanuel Macron yesterday said he would veto any trade deal that went against French interests. But UK sources said the president did not respect Britain's independence and was trying to shield his nation's firms from competition. One insider warned there would be no deal unless Mr Macron backed down (Above, Macron in Paris)

A close ally of Emmanuel Macron yesterday said he would veto any trade deal that went against French interests. But UK sources said the president did not respect Britain’s independence and was trying to shield his nation’s firms from competition. One insider warned there would be no deal unless Mr Macron backed down (Above, Macron in Paris)

Failure to strike an agreement would leave the two trading partners to deal with each other on World Trade Organisation terms from the start of next month. This would lead to the imposition of tariffs on a wide range of goods, including levies of at least 40 per cent on lamb and 10 per cent on cars. 

After months of circling round the same issues, they said ‘significant divergences’ remained over fisheries, the ‘level playing field’ rules on fair competition and the enforcement mechanism for any deal.

Mr Johnson was ready to accept the inclusion of ‘non-regression clauses’ into the deal, which would have guaranteed no cuts to current standards on state aid subsidies, workers’ rights and environmental standards.

But Mr Barnier then brought back earlier demands for a so-called ‘ratchet clause’ to make the UK follow future EU laws in these areas. Britain would be threatened with tariffs if standards fell below those in the EU.     

In a further complicating factor, the UK Government is bringing back to the Commons legislation enabling it to override elements of Mr Johnson’s ‘divorce’ settlement with Brussels in breach of international law.

On Monday, MPs will vote on whether to overturn amendments by the House of Lords which removed the provisions in the UK Internal Market Bill relating to the Irish border. 

MPs will then debate legislation which contains further similar provisions. The legislation has infuriated the EU and – if it is passed – could further sour the mood in the negotiations making a deal harder to reach.     

Could France veto a deal? When is the deadline? Your Brexit questions answered

What are the sticking points?

There are three key sticking points, which have hardly changed in months. The first is the EU’s demand that Britain observe a ‘level playing field’ on issues such as state a id subsidies, workers’ rights and environmental protections to prevent it undercutting the EU.

The second is fishing, where Brussels has demanded that EU trawlers maintain their existing rights to fish in British waters. The third is agreeing a mechanism for resolving disputes that is fair to both sides.

How can they be resolved?

The EU is nervous that its businesses could be undercut by British firms freed from the dead hand of Brussels red tape.

Boris Johnson is adamant that he will not tie the UK to EU rules after Brexit. In a bid to strike a deal, the Prime Minister has indicated he will agree to maintain ‘level playing field’ standards at at least the level they are now. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, appeared to have agreed but, under pressure from French President Emmanuel Macron, demanded that Britain also agree to continue matching EU standards as they change in future. This is unacceptable to the PM, who believes that the ability to set our own rules is the right of any independent state and a key benefit of Brexit that could allow the UK to outcompete the EU.

On fishing, most EU countries except France accept they will get lower fishing quotas in UK waters. Cuts to EU quotas could be phased in over a few years, but the UK is unwilling to accept a Brussels proposal for a decade-long transition.

Any dispute mechanism will have to put the UK’s Supreme Court on an equal footing with the European Court of Justice for it to be acceptable to Tory MPs.

Will Tory Eurosceptics accept a deal?

Most Tory MPs will back a deal that allows the UK to take back control of its borders and laws. But if the PM compromises on key issues of independence, such as allowing a decisive role for the European Court of Justice, he could face a dangerous revolt. However, this is not likely to affect his chances of getting a deal through Parliament as Labour are expected to either back it or abstain.

Could France veto it?

Yes, all 27 member states have a veto. French Europe minister Clement Beaune warned yesterday that Mr Macron was ready to veto any deal not in France’s interests.

When is the final deadline?

The Brexit process has had innumerable ‘make or break’ weeks, but sources on both sides agree the process is now in the endgame. Negotiators had been targeting a deal by tomorrow night in order for the hundreds of pages of legal documents to be translated in time for a Brussels summit on Thursday. But the process could now slip into early next week.

What about the UK’s No Deal legislation?

MPs will vote on Monday to reinsert controversial clauses in the Internal Market Bill which override parts of last year’s Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland. The measures could have been dropped if a deal had been struck but now look certain to go ahead.

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