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London, February 3: The word Brexit is “over” and is receding behind us into history, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday in his first major speech since the UK formally left the European Union after 47 years of membership following the vote in favour of the divorce deal in June 2016.
The UK formally left the EU on January 31 and is now in a pre-agreed period of transition during which it is free to open up trade talks with countries around the world.
In a triumphant vision statement for the UK to become a campaigner and catalyst for free trade around the world, Johnson said Britain’s exit from the 27-member economic bloc meant that it will not be accepting all its rules as it opens up negotiations with countries around the world.
“It’s not banned. It’s just over… it’s gone. I wouldn’t say it’s like the Big Bang or the Norman Conquest. It’s just that it’s receding into history behind us,” said Johnson, when asked why he had not referred to the word “Brexit” even once during the course of the speech during at the historic Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, reflective of Britain’s trading history across its many colonies during the Empire.
“I won’t even mention the name of the controversy except to say that it begins with B. Receding in the past behind us. We have the opportunity, we have the newly recaptured powers, we know where we want to go, and that is out into the world,” he said.
The central theme of his address was to highlight the UK government’s approach to the upcoming negotiations with the EU during the transition period triggered on Friday night and running until the end of December.
Johnson’s tough-talking message was that the UK would be seeking a “pragmatic” agreement with the EU along the lines of Canada but that it was also prepared for looser ties akin to Australia if it meant complete alignment with the EU rules and laws.
“The reason we do not seek membership or part membership of the Customs Union or alignment of any kind, is at least partly that I want this country to be an independent actor and catalyst for free trade across the world,” he said.
Johnson made specific references to the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan as being on top of the list of countries that the UK would be initiating immediate talks for new trading arrangements.
India was not named in this initial list but he stressed that the UK’s Department for International Trade was ready to begin talks simultaneously around the world.
“We are ready for the great multi-dimensional game of chess in which we engage in more than one negotiation at once and we are limbering up to use nerves and muscles and instincts that this country has not had to use for half a century,” he said.
In a corresponding speech in Brussels, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said the EU was ready to offer a “highly ambitious trade deal as the central pillar of this partnership” but it would be dependent on the UK agreeing to “specific and effective guarantees to ensure a level playing field” to ensure competition “remains open and fair”.
Trade talks between the UK and the EU are due to formally begin in March, with any agreement required to be cleared by all 27 members of the economic bloc.
Johnson had hailed the historic Brexit moment as the dawn of a new era for the UK in his address to the nation just before Brexit. (PTI)