GIVEN THAT France's foreign minister suggested this week that the UK and EU would 'rip each other part' in the negotiations on a trade deal, it seems appropriate to start off with a French quote. This is a case of 'plus ca c'est la meme chose'.  
It was France, back in the 1960s and early 1970s that blocked the UK from joining the then EEC. That was an unfair stance by de Gaulle, given that WWII was very much in living political memory. The fallout lasted a long time. It made many in the UK reluctant joiners of the EEC and it also saw the UK being a less than fully committed player, which ultimately led to Brexit 50 years later.

This is the latest in a line of comments from figures in EU-27 seeking to up the ante before the talks even begin. The same is happening in the UK, with ministers suggesting Britain will never align with EU standards to get a deal. That is a position that lacks logic, since negotiations will inevitably see the EU seeking to protect its standards.

The UK's chief negotiator for the trade talks, David Frost, is cast in the role of good cop to Boris Johnson as the bad cop. He sought this week to pour some oil on troubled waters by suggesting the UK did not wants anything unique or special, but a deal based on existing free trade agreements between the EU and Japan or Canada. He claimed that to suggest this was not possible was unfair – but as no doubt he knows real life is rarely fair.

This is one of the harsh realities the UK is going to face. It is not seeking a trade deal on the same terms as a third country. It is seeking a deal as a former member state of the EU. That should make it easier, but the European Commission has to send out a signal that it is not possible to leave the bloc without losing the privileges of membership.

That might have been possible if the UK had opted to align its rules with the EU-27. It would have been automatic, had the UK decided to remain part of the European Free Trade Association, but this has also been rejected. What London wants is some form of sweetheart deal – but when the EU publishes its proposals for the negotiations next week, it will be clear that its priority is to protect its own interests. For farmers, that means more months of confusion until we know where and on what basis they will be able to sell into the EU-27.

All this comes as no surprise. Negotiations at this level are always tough. A surprise from the onset is that the UK wants to conclude a deal by the end of the year – or more realistically by the autumn to allow time for it to be approved by national governments. This is a tall order, given that the still-not-ratified Mercosur trade deal between the EU and South America took twenty years.

Even a simple deal, such as one announced last week with Vietnam, was agreed in principle in 2015 but it has taken since then to get the politics right for the deal to be ratified.

The UK has not concluded a trade deal for close to 50 years, since it joined the then EEC. It has to be a big cause for concern that the government is naïve about the scale of the challenge that lies ahead. Going head to head in a political bun fight is not going to serve the citizens of either the UK or EU-27 well, but when did common sense ever stop politicians grandstanding about what they think is best?

What is needed on both sides is cool heads and sound judgement. Hopefully by the time the talks get going properly, around mid-March, the blood letting of now, on the UK side, and of next week on the EU side, will give way to economic logic.

When the French foreign ministers and Emmanuel Macron ally, Jean-Yves Le Drian, forecast that the two sides would 'rip each other apart' he would have been well advised to remember the old Gandhi quotation that 'an eye for eye makes the whole world blind'. That is what happens when political rhetoric trumps common sense and economic reality.