Brussels denies it has set any new conditions for free trade deal, writes Robert Peston

Downing Street briefings that the EU is “moving the goalposts” for a free trade agreement and is belatedly demanding that the UK should not be compelled to maintain standards on state aid, competition, workers rights and environment seem either flaky or deliberately designed to once again cast Brussels as a duplicitous enemy.

If you look at the March 2018 EU Council guidelines (below) for the future relationship between the EU and the UK and the actually-agreed framework for the future relationship agreed in October 2019 (also below), the importance for the EU of maintaining a level playing field between the UK and EU is explicit.

The future relationship between the EU and UK, as written in March 2018.

The most important phrase in both documents is the stress on “economic interdependence and geographic proximity”.

The EU has always been explicit and clear that these natural competitive advantages for the UK would mean that the conditions imposed on - for example - Canada in its EU free trade arrangement could not be cut and pasted into a UK deal.

There is no real news here, except that Boris Johnson apparently wants to start these important negotiations in a spirit of mutual antipathy.

The actually-agreed framework.

One well-placed EU source described the Downing Street accusation that the EU had belatedly decided to insist on tougher level playing field conditions as “total b*******”.

The same source added that Sunday's statement by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab that there would not be “checks and controls” in the Irish Sea on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland was “a blatant lie, and easy to prove if anyone cared”.

So less than 48 hours after Brexit, nothing much has changed in Downing Street’s characterisation or caricature of Brussels as an untrustworthy enemy of British interests.

Johnson still thinks hand-bagging the EU is the best way - which inevitably means the UK will be seen in EU capitals as that most tricky and perfidious of allies.