Boris Johnson’s Achilles’ heel in Brexit negotiations exposed by US trade expert

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On Monday, face-to-face negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and the EU resumed in Brussels. It was the first time the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, and his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, met in person since talks began in March, due to the coronavirus pandemic. After Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a deal could be reached this month with “new momentum”, both teams pledged to “intensify talks”.

However, there still remains serious differences between the two sides and talks ended early yesterday.

Brussels still insists on maintaining its current fishing rights in British waters and wants London to agree to a number of EU regulations, including environmental standards, workers’ rights and state aid rules.

On the other hand, Mr Johnson is demanding the right to diverge from the bloc’s rules in order to strike trade agreements around the world.

Yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Brussels to plan for a no deal Brexit with the UK.

Addressing members of parliament in the Bundestag, the long-serving leader said the EU “must and should prepare for a situation in which an agreement does not happen”.

As tensions are set to rise in the incoming weeks, US trade expert Simon Lester revealed what he believes has been Mr Johnson’s biggest mistake in the trade negotiations with the bloc.

In a recent podcast by the CATO institute, Mr Lester described the Prime Minister as a “free trader” and as someone with a considerable amount of power.

He said: “People should look at him as someone who got things done.

“He got Brexit done and we should give him credit for it.

“If he says he wants a Free Trade Agreement with the US or EU, I would give him the benefit of the doubt and the chance to make it happen.”

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However, Mr Lester noted that there is a thing that worries him about the Prime Minister: the political posturing.

He continued: “I don’t think it is very valuable, it undermines the negotiations more than it helps.

“It would be better off really not saying anything.

“I can see how there are people in the UK who are put off by the EU’s demands on a level playing field, which is basically that the UK shouldn’t diverge from EU regulation.

“But I don’t think you need to fight this in the media.

“Just let negotiators sit down and work on some language that smoothes over these differences.

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“Making a big speech and calling out your rivals, your negotiating rivals, I’m not sure it helps.”

Mr Lester also analysed Brussels’ tactics in the negotiations and dubbed the bloc’s position untenable.

He noted: “The EU is expressing concerns about the UK deregulating or offering new subsidies in a way that gives them an unfair advantage and they want rules to deal with that.

“I think the Europeans are exaggerating those fears a bit.”

Mr Lester added: “Look, trade agreements these days all say something about regulations.

“What we want to avoid is a really strictly worded trade agreement between the UK and the EU that says the UK cannot deviate from EU regulation.

“That won’t work. The UK is never going to agree to that.

“You have to write it with some flexibility.”

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