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Frosty reception in Brussels

The EU didn’t like Frost’s speech – but what do Brexiteers think?

The UK’s top Brexit negotiator David Frost gave a major speech at ULB Brussels University on Monday evening where he set out the British government’s plans for an EU trade deal.

He explained why Brexit is not radical, charted his personal journey from europhile to eurosceptic and called the idea we might remain aligned with EU rules “absurd”.

But Frost’s unambiguous approach – poles apart from the position taken by his predecessor Sir Olly Robbins – has not got through to Brussels. 

This is classic EU playbook –  when Theresa May was asking for a “deep and special partnership” more far-ranging than the EU-Canada deal the EU’s ‘steps’ diagram said only a Canada/South Korea-style deal was possible.

But EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters today that they were now only offering a ‘close’ agreement, not a Canada or South Korea style deal:

“We have proposed a trade agreement with a country that has a very particular and unique close geographical proximity not like Canada, not like South Korea and not like Japan. Very particular”

But what do Brexiteers in parliament make of Frost’s speech?  Broadly speaking they’re in favour, but they wonder why it has taken three years to state the UK position so unambiguously. 

2017: The infamous EU slide

“It sets out the terms of the debate and should speed up the negotiation by ruling out everything we’re not moving on” one told me.

But they are also asking why the Prime Minister is not meeting the US president and others – showing the EU they’re not the only game in town. This, they reason, would “shows the EU the implements of their torture”.

One told me the EU’s state aid issue needed to be settled, and another was concerned that whilst regulatory alignment had been ruled out, the UK’s fishing rights had not. (Despite the ever-loyal Express spinning the speech as a win for fishermen)

The final point a Brexiteer I spoke to made was that the UK needs to start pushing back on the legality of the Northern Irish backstop. 

In his speech David Frost said he was “negotiating on behalf of Northern Ireland as for every other part of the UK”  – but the UK risks leaving Ulster behind if we leave without a deal and don’t challenge the idea Northern Ireland can stay in the EU forever.

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