David Frost made no attempt to sugar-coat his views on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, saying an independent Britain “must have the ability to set laws that suit us”.
The PM’s chief Brexit negotiator made a bruising speech in Brussels as he bids to set out the party line on the divorce.
He dismissed the idea an EU court would have a role in future trade disputes, saying: “We only want what other independent countries have.”
Closest possible alignment
It comes as France warns Britain to expect a fierce battle during talks.
Acting Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said: “Boris Johnson should listen to the views of British businesses who want to maintain the closest possible alignment with the European Union.”
Addressing students and academics at the Université libre de Bruxelles, Mr Frost said: “It is central to our vision that we must have the ability to set laws that suit us – to claim the right that every other non-EU country in the world has.
“So to think that we might accept EU supervision on so-called level playing field issues simply fails to see the point of what we are doing.”
He said this was not “a simple negotiating position which might move under pressure – it is the point of the whole project”.
The UK wants a Canada-type free trade agreement with the EU, Mr Frost said. If this cannot be agreed, then Britain will trade on the basic international terms it currently follows with Australia.
He said the UK will set out more details of its vision for the future relationship with the EU next week.
Mr Frost also reiterated the government’s insistence that it will not extend the transition period beyond the end of this year.
The transition period runs until 31 December 2020, during which time the UK continues follow EU rules – including freedom of movement.
It is intended to allow time for the UK and the EU to agree a post-Brexit trade agreement.
Level playing field
One of the key sticking points could be the idea of ensuring a level playing field – which was referred to by Mr Frost in his speech.
The EU wants the UK to sign up to strict rules on fair and open competition – known as level-playing-field guarantees – so if British companies are given tariff-free access to the EU market, they cannot undercut their rivals.
The EU has repeatedly warned that the UK cannot expect to enjoy continued “high-quality” market access if it insists on diverging from EU social and environmental standards.
It also wants the European Court of Justice to have a legal role in policing any free trade agreement reached.
But in his speech, Mr Frost asked: “How would you feel if the UK demanded that, to protect ourselves, the EU dynamically harmonise with our national laws set in Westminster and the decisions of our own regulators and courts?
“The more thoughtful would say that such an approach would compromise the EU’s sovereign legal order.”