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Brexit talks: the brutal reckoning that awaits the UK
Many EU member states are calling for a very hard line with the UK in talks on future relationship
But as politicians spar over who is best placed to lead Britain out of its Brexit quagmire, top officials in Brussels believe the UK population faces a brutal reckoning for which it is ill-prepared. EU officials have been preparing for negotiations with the UK on the post-Brexit relationship for more than two years, and behind the scenes many member states are urging them to take a very hard line indeed.

"What is going to come is going to be much more challenging and demanding than what we have seen up to now," says one senior EU diplomat. "I would not wish negotiating a trade deal with the EU on anybody. It's the worst thing that can happen to you, especially if your administration doesn't have any experience negotiating trade issues."


Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, has already made clear Brussels will be guided in the talks by a simple principle: the further the UK aims to diverge from EU rules in Mr Johnson's avowed quest to boost the country's economic competitiveness, the more restricted Britain's access to the single market will be.

The EU argues it is being asked to grant Britain market access on goods going beyond any other trade deal the bloc has with a major economy, creating a clear risk of unfair competition for Europe's companies. Such access will come at the price of sticking closely to EU law on workers rights, environmental standards, state aid and other rules.

Britain, by contrast, argues a free-trade deal is a fundamentally looser economic relationship than membership of the EU's single market and customs union, and that it would be hypocritical for Brussels to demand far more alignment than it has done in negotiations with other countries. Dominic Raab, the UK's foreign secretary, said on Sunday that the country is "not going to align ourselves to EU rules".

Some of the countries that have been most adamant about the need for a regulatory level playing field are those, such as the Netherlands and Denmark, that are bastions of the cause of free trade and close allies of the UK. "Britain's allies will themselves be subject to their own internal lobbies," says Peter Guilford, a former EU trade official. "They will not be on Britain's side."

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