PM tells European business leaders he wants ‘pro-trade’ agenda with EU

Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent

The Prime Minister has told European business leaders he wants to “foster a pro-business agenda” with Brussels after MEPs signed-off on his Brexit trade deal, No 10 said.

The European Parliament overwhelmingly voted to ratify the trade terms last week, in a move that was delayed due to cross-Channel rows over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The deal, thrashed out by Boris Johnson’s Government and the EU over months of difficult negotiations, was approved by MEPs by 660 votes to five, with 32 abstentions.

Following the move, Downing Street said Mr Johnson and International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, during a conference call with businesses from the European Round Table for Industry (ERT) on Tuesday afternoon, expressed hope the decision would bolster trade between Britain and the bloc.

The deal had been applied provisionally since January 1 but required the approval of MEPs before it could be ratified.

But despite the warm words from the Prime Minister, there were reports that a fisheries licensing row could rock UK-EU relations after a French minister suggested her country could cut the power supply which gives Jersey 95% of its electricity.

Since the Brexit deal came into force, France has accused London of dragging its feet over issuing licences to small French vessels in the UK’s six to 12 nautical mile zone, with the country’s maritime minister Annick Girdardin reportedly telling the parliament in Paris her administration was “ready to use … retaliation measures” against the Channel island.

Meanwhile, back in Westminster, No 10 said the Prime Minister told European business figures that the UK’s “cautious journey out of lockdown” would allow industry in Britain and on the continent to “prosper”.

A spokesman said: “On trade, the discussion focused on how to foster a pro-trade, pro-business agenda between the UK and EU.

“The Prime Minister welcomed the recently ratified EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement and said that the UK was an open and welcoming economy, which remains international in its outlook.

“He reaffirmed his desire to see the UK and EU thrive together and noted that whilst the UK is now outside the EU, we remain a part of Europe.”

The November Cop26 summit in Glasgow was also discussed on Tuesday, along with the UK’s drive for a “cleaner” economy, No 10 added.

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The post-Brexit trade deal prevented a no-deal fallout between the UK and the EU once the transition period ended in January but there have been a number of issues since the new year, with added paperwork and extra customs checks, particularly on fresh goods.

Relations between the UK and EU have been further strained over the application of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which governs the new arrangements aimed at preventing a hard border with Ireland and was part of the divorce deal signed in January last year.

Much of the disruption and controversy created by the protocol relates to the fact Great Britain has left the Single Market for goods, while Northern Ireland remains in the EU regulatory zone.

That necessitates a significant number of documentary checks and physical inspections on agri-food goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

The UK has unilaterally extended grace periods covering areas of the economy including supermarket supplies and parcel deliveries to Northern Ireland from Great Britain, meaning post-Brexit checks are not yet fully applied – which has triggered a legal dispute with Brussels.