Over the past four years, a great deal of time has been spent discussing the withdrawal agreement, but little has been spent on what to follow. The political declaration attached to the October 2019 withdrawal agreement set out an agreed but non-binding framework for future UK-EU relations and in February 2020 the UK government published its approach to the negotiations.  It was only with the UK`s draft text on the free trade agreement, published on 19 May 2020, that the fog began to fly.  The letter and draft agreement were drawn up on the basis of what could be described as tinkering, provided that their provisions were defined by provisions included in the EU free trade agreements with Canada, Norway, Mexico and Japan. Trade negotiations began on 31 March 2020 and are expected to be completed by the end of October 2020, after which the draft treaty will have to be ratified by both sides to enter into force on 1 January 2021. A draft agreement was not reached until the end of October and negotiations continued until November, as important issues were not resolved.  At the end of 2018, the UK`s position on future trade relations between the UK and the EU was to seek harmonious borders for trade in goods, with the minimum regulatory harmonisation needed to achieve this, and to seek few concessions on trade in services. Until October 2019, the political declaration was still ready to accept the necessary harmonization of goods and a low ambition in terms of services. However, after the December 2019 elections, the government`s position in merchandise trade hardened on the assumption that there would be costly trade disputes over goods – in fact, a less close relationship overall. The government has also taken a tougher rhetorical stance and said that the UK wants a free trade agreement modelled on free trade agreements “that the EU has already concluded in recent years with Canada and other friendly countries,” and that, as a result, some EU objectives that would be unique to the UK, such as the “same playing field” and the links between fish trade and territorial legislation , are unacceptable.  The cumbersome 291-page agreement was sent by a brief four-page letter to Michel Barnier, the EU`s chief Brexit negotiator, by David Frost, the Prime Minister`s EU adviser and chief negotiator. We are looking for the kind of agreement that the EU has already reached with Canada and other friendly countries in recent years.
Our proposal builds on previous EU agreements, such as the Comprehensive Economic Agreement, the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement and the EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement. And it is in line with the political declaration agreed last October, in which both sides set the goal of concluding a free trade agreement “zero tariffs, zero tariffs”. So far, the EU has insisted that the details of a free trade agreement cannot be discussed “in parallel” on important issues. On the eve of the third round of negotiations in early May, Frost said the UK had now presented a comprehensive agreement, including a comprehensive draft free trade agreement and a fisheries framework agreement. In his statement after the third round, Frost said the main obstacle was the EU`s “new and unbalanced proposals” on a level playing field. He said they were not based on a precedent. Similarly, he stated that the EU`s fishing requirements were “clearly unbalanced” and did not respect the UK`s future status as an independent coastal state. The main objective of the parties negotiating a free trade agreement is generally to achieve a substantial improvement in the trade conditions they have, based on their WTO commitments, which effectively serve as a “basis” for discussion (see Brexit questions and answers: WTO rules).