A quick trade deal between the EU and the U.K. is possible — but that solely depends on the Brits, according to Amélie de Montchalin, France’s state secretary for EU affairs.
“The more reasonable are the demands of the U.K., the more reasonably we can agree” in the 11-month timeline set out by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, de Montchalin told POLITICO’s Brussels Playbook in an interview. “It will now depend on how the U.K. presents its negotiation strategy and objectives.”
De Montchalin said that “the more divergence” the Brits seek from the EU, the longer talks will take, and “the less frictionless” will be the U.K.’s access to the EU’s market.
And she warned against overly prescriptive deadlines for getting a deal done.
“We are not ready to sacrifice the content, quality and seriousness of an agreement just because we put ourselves in a straight jacket of a too-tight calendar,” she said. “By signing an agreement, we will start a long journey. If we need six more months, it’s worth taking them.”
The U.K. prime minister said earlier this week that it is “epically likely” that Britain will strike a comprehensive trade deal with the EU by his deadline of the end of the year, but admitted: “You always have to budget for complete failure of common sense.”
Quid pro quo will be key to striking a deal, de Montchalin indicated.
“For me, what counts is the capacity to reassure our companies and citizens that there will be reciprocity,” she said, listing the environment as one example. “We just agreed in Europe on carbon neutrality by 2050. We are putting ourselves under constraint, voluntarily,” she said. If the U.K. commits to the same, “that’s a great way to create reciprocity,” she said. Britain last year passed laws that committed it to a binding target of net-zero emissions by 2050.
De Montchalin said that farming rules, the use of pesticides, environmental standards, fisheries, product safety, and fiscal, tax and social issues were on France’s reciprocity wish list.
But if Britain doesn’t play ball? “If they don’t, we have to be very serious. We cannot expose our own people, consumers and farmers to disloyal competition.”