Caving to Brussels on fish and level playing field risks leaving UK a 'permanent client state', Boris Johnson warned

Harry Yorke
·3 min read
Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

Caving to Brussels on fish and the level playing field to secure a post-Brexit trade deal risks turning Britain into a permanent “client state”, senior Conservative MPs have warned Boris Johnson. 

With the UK on the cusp of reaching an agreement with the European Union, a group of “die-hard” backbenches have urged the Prime Minister not break his promises to Leave voters in last year’s election. 

It comes amid fears that Mr Johnson could be forced to grant a flurry of last-minute concessions after intensive lobbying from French president Emmanual Macron to secure more preferable terms on fishing, state subsidies and non-regression clauses.

Under British plans designed to placate the French, Mr Johnson has reportedly agreed to defer repatriating up to half of the fishing quotas for several years. 

However, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, told The Daily Telegraph that fishing was a “totemic issue”, adding that the UK needed to start with control over “100 per cent”.

“We have to be treated like Norway is treated,” he added. “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.”

Meanwhile, there is growing concern that the so-called level playing field – a common set of rules and standards designed to ensure Britain does not give advantages to its business which undermine the EU - will prevent Britain from diverging in the future. 

The two sides are still believed to be at odds over the policing of the arrangement, particularly over how it will be policed and how to future-proof the agreement to ensure fair competition over time.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has also called for further concessions from the UK on state aid, with Mr Macron determined to prevent subsidies being used to undercut French businesses.

Last night Theresa Villiers, the former environment secretary, warned that the UK was now at the point of “maximum danger”, adding that “regulatory autonomy is a core part of delivering Brexit.”

“This is the main means by which the EU could potentially tie us into their laws and their court. I see this as the main threat to getting Brexit done,” she added. 

“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.”

However, several MPs said any potential backlash was likely to be limited to several dozen hardliners, meaning Mr Johnson is unlikely to face any major challenge in pushing the trade deal through Parliament.

“It’s very much the ones that caused Theresa May a lot of trouble,” said one. “There’s an element of this which is that nothing will be good enough for them except no deal. As long as it looks reasonable I think most people will wear it.” 

Dr Liam Fox, the former trade secretary and prominent Brexiteer, added: “We have to be realistic and if we want to get the best for the majority of the British economy we will have to make some compromises. Trade agreements are not a series of ultimata, they are a negotiation.”