British Prime Minister Boris Johnson could walk away from trade talks with the European Union in June unless there is the "broad outline" of an agreement, according to the UK's guidelines for the negotiations.
The UK's position, which cover trade and other aspects of the future relationship with Brussels, sets the deadline for progress against a backdrop of deep divisions between the two sides over issues including fish, state subsidies and standards.
The British government has set out its plans for the talks ahead of the first round of negotiations on Monday, making clear that it "will not negotiate any arrangements in which the UK does not have control of its own laws and political life".
It is the UK's intention to rely on World Trade Organisation terms under an arrangement with the EU similar to Australia's if progress on a comprehensive deal cannot be made.
Whatever the outcome of the talks, businesses have been warned to expect friction at the border from 1 January because the UK will not extend the transition period and will therefore be leaving the European Single Market and Customs Union.
A high-level meeting to take stock of progress is scheduled for June, by which time it should be clear whether the Canada-style comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) sought by Mr Johnson is possible by the end of the year.
The negotiation guidelines envisage the "broad outline of an agreement" by the June meeting, which would be "rapidly finalised" by September.
"If that does not seem to be the case at the June meeting, the government will need to decide whether the UK's attention should move away from negotiations and focus solely on continuing domestic preparations to exit the transition period in an orderly fashion."
Negotiations due to begin next week - there is ample time to strike the right deal for the UK. We aim to reach high level agreement by June EU summit, and will take stock at that point.— seanwhelanRTE (@seanwhelanRTE) February 27, 2020
In the Political Declaration agreed by Mr Johnson and the EU last year, the two sides agreed to work towards a deal "encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field".
The minister in charge of the process, Michael Gove, told the House of Commons that the UK was not bound by all elements of the Political Declaration.
He said that London wanted the best possible trading relationship with the EU, but in pursuit of a deal the UK would not trade away its sovereignty.
Mr Gove also said the UK would take back control of its waters as an independent coastal state and would not link access to UK waters by European vessels to access to EU markets.
The EU's mandate called for any agreement to use Brussels' standards as "a reference point" over time - indicating that the UK could be expected to keep aligned with changes to the rules covering state subsidies, environmental standards and workers' rights in future, something that would breach Mr Johnson's red lines.
Downing Street insiders indicated that Mr Johnson believes the mandate he won at last year's general election tops the declaration, which does not have the status of a binding international treaty.
They said that Brussels had also moved away from the Political Declaration, pointing to the EU's mandate published on Tuesday going far beyond the agreed terms on the "level playing field".
In its document, the UK government promises to carry out a consultation exercise on the "economic impact of the future relationship".
But officials acknowledge that whatever the outcome of the talks, there would be friction in trade between the UK and EU.
The UK will be taking steps to prepare for the end of the year, with infrastructure at ports to ensure that checks can be carried out.
Leaving the single market and customs union would require these processes to be carried out, even with a Canada-style deal.
For goods and services crossing borders there would be new processes in place - although the amount of friction could be reduced by a free trade deal.
The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has given a cool response to the UK's negotiating mandate.
On Twitter, Mr Barnier said he took note of the UK position and said the EU would stick to all of its prior commitments in the Political Declaration.
We take note of the #UK's mandate published today and will discuss our respective positions on Monday.— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) February 27, 2020
We will stick to all our prior commitments in the Political Declaration.
We want an ambitious & fair partnership with the UK in the future 🇪🇺🇬🇧
Mr Barnier and the British government's Europe adviser David Frost will meet in Brussels on Monday for the first round of talks on the post-Brexit relationship, with a further session expected in London later in March.