It is rumoured that Boris Johnson and his Government are trying to ban or reduce references to "Brexit" in official communications and indeed the Brexit-focused UK Government "Department for Exiting the European Union" (DExEU)  itself closed on 31 January 2020 as the UK officially exited the EU.

All the UK Government talk is now about "transition" as we are in the "transition period" until 31 December 2020. Perhaps from now on we should all refer to " Brexit" as the "word formerly known as Brexit" and focus on using the word "transition" instead!

Whatever the linguistic preferences, there is no doubt that a change in tone is coming in the discourse between the UK and EU as the two sides shape up for negotiations on free trade.

From the EU perspective, things started off gently enough with the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, making a very warm speech at her old university college, the London School of Economics, on the 8  January 2020 in which she said of the UK-EU relationship:-

"Now is the time for us to look forward together. It is the time for the best and the oldest of friends to build a new future together."

She did , however, add:-

"But as only true friends can, I want to be very honest about what lies ahead of us".

Madame Von der Leyen did then go on to recite the now familiar EU position about the importance of a "level playing field"  on environment, labour, taxation and state aid and emphasised that before reaching the goal of "a new partnership with zero tariffs, zero quotas, zero dumping", many issues had to be addressed.

The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has now turned up the heat somewhat, when speaking at the Munich security forum on 16 February 2020 at which he is reported to have said:-

"I think on trade issues and the mechanism for future relations, which we are going to start on, we are going to rip each other apart."

He was reported to have focused on fishing rights as one area where in particular the EU interest had to be safeguarded.

He did qualify this rather sharp language by emphasising the closeness of the UK- French bilateral relationship in defence and security matters.

The UK is due to  clarify its own position publicly  with chief UK negotiator, David Frost, set to publicise in more detail the UK position with regard to the free trade negotiations. 

Meanwhile, a UK Government spokesman is reported to have responded to M. Drian's comments with a somewhat emollient turn of phrase that the UK was "not asking for anything special, bespoke or unique" and would be listing its demands for a "deal like the EU has struck previously with other friendly countries like Canada".

It is to be hoped by many that , given the tight period  for "transition", not too much time will be spent on posturing about free trade talks and that the parties will get down to business and engage in substantive negotiations.

Many people's livelihoods depend on it!