Johnson, at a video conference with Ursula von der Leyen on Monday, himself urged European leaders to “put a tiger in the tank” as both sides vowed to find “fresh momentum” in talks on Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with the bloc.
At a press conference on Thursday, German Socialist MEP Bernd Lange said Johnson’s typically colourful choice of words reminded him of an incident from over four decades ago.
Lange, chair of the Committee on International Trade, told reporters, “My parents used to own an Esso garage in the 1970s when the company had a well known commercial urging customers to ‘put the tiger in the tank.’
“Customers used to ask exactly what the benefit was of the ‘tiger in the tank’ and I could never really answer this so I hope Boris Johnson can do so. To be honest, I am sceptical.”
“Customers used to ask exactly what the benefit was of the ‘tiger in the tank’ and I could never really answer this so I hope Boris Johnson can do so. To be honest, I am sceptical” Bernd Lange MEP, Chair of the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee
Speaking at the same briefing, EPP member David McAllister pointed out that Britain and the EU, at the High Level Conference between the two sides earlier this week, both agreed to an “intensified” round of discussions in a bid to make progress on key areas of disagreement.
The two sides remain at loggerheads on a string of issues, including access to Britain’s fishing waters after Brexit, Britain’s objections to a so-called ‘level playing field’ of rights and standards in any future trade tie-up, governance of any trade deal, and future security cooperation between the two sides.
McAllister, who chairs the European Parliament’s UK Coordination Group on the Brexit talks and was present for the “virtual” meeting on Monday, said, “Yes, both have agreed to intensify their talks in July and they had better do so because of the time pressure they are now under.”
He added that because of the legislative loop any deal would have to be agreed by 31 October, adding, “So they had better get cracking. Yes, let’s put the tiger in the tank but we also need to know which direction the car is going. I hope that it is towards an agreement.”
“Never before has a third country (the UK) been offered such access, with no tariffs quotas, to the single market. It is now up to the UK to decide if this great country will accept our offer or not” David McAllister MEP Chair of the European Parliament’s UK Coordination Group
He also highlighted the “crucial” role the European Parliament will play in signing off any deal, pointing to a report which was adopted by MEPs on Thursday.
“This report is well worth reading. It has input from no less than 17 European Parliament committees and received 400 amendments which, to me, shows the huge interest in this issue among MEPs.”
McAllister, who is also chair of the Parliament’s influential Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “Parliament, remember, will have the final word on this. We have to agree to any deal so we will play a crucial role at the end of this process. I hope both sides will take note of what we say in the report.”
The 35 page report, he said, “shows unity across party lines” and that “parliament is rallying behind [the EU’s chief negotiator] Michel Barnier.”
He added, “The [Withdrawal Agreement’s] Political Declaration was painstakingly negotiated by both sides and carries the signature of Boris Johnson so we now expect what was agreed to be transmitted into any final agreement.”
“We don’t want a tax haven on the Thames, so we must have the same - or equivalent - rules for the financial services industry in the UK as in the EU” Christophe Hansen MEP
He also said he believes there is “still a strong will to find an agreement,” adding that “Never before has a third country (the UK) been offered such access, with no tariffs quotas, to the single market. It is now up to the UK to decide if this great country will accept our offer or not. We now have to take stock again in August but the clock is ticking.”
Luxembourg EPP MEP Christophe Hansen, who co authored the report, said he now had fresh “optimism” and was “positive” about the prospects for a deal.
He said, “This is after the UK, last Friday, said it wanted a light touch to the customs regime and no customs controls for several months after 31 December. This shows there is some pragmatism on the UK side and I hope that this pragmatism will win over ideology. This is what we should aim for.”
Pointing to the contents of the report, he added, “We don’t want a tax haven on the Thames, so we must have the same - or equivalent - rules for the financial services industry in the UK as in the EU.
“There should also be no regression on environmental standards - this is of utmost importance – and the UK should respect the Paris climate agreement. The UK has always been at the forefront of combating climate change and I hope this will stay the same after it leaves the EU.”
“We do not want a race to the bottom when it comes to standards on such things. If there is one red line that we have in these talks it is the level playing field. That means having the same, not lower, standards and not a competition” Kati Piri MEP
Dutch Socialist MEP Kati Piri, who also co authored the report, told the news conference that Boris Johnson said he believes a deal can be reached “within six weeks.”
She said, “I doubt if we can reach a comprehensive agreement in just six weeks but it is the UK that has chosen the time pressure. It had the chance to delay the talks for one or two years.”
She agreed with Hansen on the need to maintain a “level playing field” in social and environmental legislation, adding, “We do not want a race to the bottom when it comes to standards on such things. If there is one red line that we have in these talks it is the level playing field. That means having the same, not lower, standards and not a competition.”