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Boris Johnson’s resolute drive to untangle the country from Brussels’ burdensome red tape is showing the first signs of success. EU bureaucrats had hoped to keep the Government tied to their state aid regime amid fears the Prime Minister’s pledge to “level up” Britain after Brexit would leave the bloc flagging behind.
Their determination to prevent UK firms from outcompeting continental rivals saw Michel Barnier ordered by member states to ensure Britain “dynamically aligned” to the bloc’s rules governing state subsidies and tax breaks, with a role for the European Court of Justice to police the pact.
The so-called “level-playing field” as envisaged by Brussels would also see the country following the EU’s environmental and workers’ rights standards as the price for a free-trade agreement.
The hardline demands set out by European capitals, led by the French, left the EU’s chief negotiator privately uncomfortable, knowing his opening gambit would never be acceptable to a sovereign nation.
But the Frenchman’s warnings were ignored with diplomats and officials still believing the bloc could keep Britain as a satellite state in Brussels’ regulatory orbit.
It took a direct warning from Mr Johnson to EU presidents Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel to finally convince European governments they would have to compromise or face Britain leaving the transition period on the same terms as Australia – a no deal – on December 31.
The Prime Minister spelled out in black and white to respect the historic referendum result future governments would need full control over policy changes and access to Britain’s fishing grounds.
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And with that the penny dropped, Mr Barnier was finally forced to publicly concede the EU would need to soften its stance in order to conclude a deal.
Before diplomats were convinced Mr Johnson’s would be the first to buckle after insisting he could find a deal with the bloc in less than 12 months.
Naively they had become accustomed to negotiating with his predecessor, Theresa May, who essentially handed the pen to Brussels during the drafting of the Withdrawal Agreement.
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In a recent session with French MPs, Mr Barnier said he had understood Mr Johnson’s positions loud and clear.
The Brussels bureaucrat insisted it would be down to him to be “creative” with the mandate handed to him by capitals, as for the Prime Minister Britain’s freedom is his only goal.
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