Phil Hogan, the EU’s trade commissioner, told the FT this week that Britain’s word was at stake in the spat.

“I was always brought up in my years with a strong political perception that the United Kingdom was an entity that, when you signed something in great solemness . . . was the last country that you would expect to act in any dishonourable way in relation to its implementation,” he said …

The political declaration was originally conceived as a sop to Theresa May after she failed to convince the EU to negotiate on Britain’s divorce and on its future relationship with the union at the same time.

But the text began to matter more to EU leaders once Mr Johnson became prime minister. He made clear to Brussels that he wanted to rework the document by scrapping Mrs May’s plans for a customs union and defining a more distant economic relationship. The language on the “level playing field” was a key battleground.

All this means that Brussels really believed it had won a victory last year with the language it secured on regulatory alignment. It is bewildered that Mr Johnson is simply ignoring that victory – a point underlined by the detailed negotiation stance that the UK published on Thursday.



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