By Stefan J. Bos
Shortly after London's famed Big Ben bell bonged his nation out of the European Union, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was welcomed to explain his vision for future relations with the EU amid tensions.
He spoke in the Painted Hall at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, where grand 18th Century paintings celebrate Britain's prosperity and naval power.
Johnson made clear there was "no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection, the environment, or anything similar, any more than the EU should be obliged to accept UK rules."
And he said: "We want a thriving trade and economic relationship with the EU. They are our historical friends, partners, neighbors. And I should today be tabling a parliamentary statement spelling out our objectives. I want to lay one myth to rest: we will not engage in some cutthroat race to the bottom. "
But the European Union's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier suggested that Britain should realize it hasn't the same rights as remaining EU members. Britain, he stressed, should accept conditions as part of a trade deal. "First, we need to make sure competition is – and remains – open and fair," Barnier told reporters.
"We have already agreed with Prime Minister Johnson that our future partnership will prevent 'unfair competitive advantages,'" Barnier recalled. "We must now agree on specific and effective guarantees to ensure a level playing field over the long term."
Barnier also stressed that a free trade agreement must include a deal on fisheries that would give reciprocal assess to waters
and conditions on these must be established by July 1, 2020.
Trade talks will begin in March.
After criticizing his predecessor Theresa May's approach in negotiating a divorce deal with the EU, Prime Minister Johnston is striking a much stricter tone.