Boris Johnson’s secret weapon: Economist reveals ‘powerful bargaining chip’ panicking EU

Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), said he was “supremely confident” of a positive outcome for the UK. Commenting in the wake of Andrew Neil’s assessment the UK Government has “many cards to play” in forthcoming negotiations which would be characterised by a “much more assertive” approach, Mr Littlewood said he agreed with the former editor of The Times and journalistic heavyweight.

He told “A great deal is made of how tight the timeframe is but whatever the deadline is, it will get sorted out in the last few days anyway.

“I am supremely confident that we will end up in one of three places, all of which would be broadly acceptable.

“First, a Canada-plus deal, whatever Michel Barnier says. Whether the EU would actually block this is highly debatable.

“Secondly, that we can’t agree to WTO terms – but I think we would agree a deal in the next year or two.

“Or thirdly, we don’t get a comprehensive deal on everything but we got piecemeal deals which cover the important areas.”

On Friday Mr Neil tweeted: “Whether we were right or not to vote to leave EU still a matter of huge controversy and the outcome still uncertain.

“The May Withdrawal agreement was a victory for the EU, the late Johnson change not withstanding.

“The future partnership talks will be a very different matter, with a much more assertive UK government.

“The EU does not hold all the cards; but it has many; the UK has cards of its own, should it wish to play them. Intersting year ahead.”

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Mr Littlewood commented: “There is no doubt that Boris can use no deal as a bargaining chip.

“Obviously no deal would be mutually bad news but does France really want a 40 percent tariff on red wine for example? Does Italy?

“Does Germany want tariffs on car exports?

“I’m not an expert but I would have thought there would come a point when exports become non-viable, if tariffs are high enough.”

Nobody wanted to walk away without a free trade agreement which would remove the requirement for mutual tariffs and other restrictions in place, Mr Littlewood said, stressing it was “obviously the most desirable outcome”.

However, he added: “We’ve got to keep that on the table as a threat because it shows we are serious.”

Mr Littlewood also stressed the importance of pushing the boundaries in negotiations with the EU as far as possible to ensure as much latitude as possible when it came to future trade talks with other countries.

He said: “The whole point about this is that when our negotiators are talking to the 93 percent of the world’s countries who are not in the European Union, they have freedom to do so properly.

“If they have to go in there with a telephone-book sized list of EU regulations, the negotiations are scarcely going to get off the starting block.

“People will say ‘what the hell are these trade negotiations actually about then?

“We may choose to keep some regulations in place – but that must be our choice.

“Otherwise it’s a bit like that speech by Geoffrey Howe when he talked about sending the batsman to the crease after breaking his bat.”

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