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17 February 2020

Financial Times: UK Brexit chief rejects EU’s ‘level playing field’ approach

Britain’s top negotiator with Brussels insisted the UK would never agree to EU oversight of its rulemaking in exchange for a post-Brexit trade deal, even as France sought to toughen the bloc’s stance in the talks.

David Frost, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, used a speech in Brussels to reject the kinds of “level playing field” conditions that Paris and other capitals insist must form the backbone of any future-relationship agreement. 

“To think that we might accept EU supervision on so-called level playing field issues simply fails to see the point of what we are doing,” he said in a lecture to the Université Libre de Bruxelles. “It isn’t a simple negotiating position which might move under pressure — it is the point of the whole project.”

Mr Frost went on to warn that EU oversight of whether British laws are rigorous enough would contravene “the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country.”

On Wednesday France will make a last-ditch effort to convince fellow EU member states to toughen the requirements they will seek to impose on Britain, saying the UK should have to stay in line with EU environmental, tax and labour-market rules even as they evolve over the years to come.

The position is harder than the European Commission’s proposed negotiating stance, which would mainly require Britain to continue respecting the rules as they stand at the end of this year. Those demands have already been criticised by the British government as going too far. 

Brussels expects the fight over the level playing field to dominate the early months of negotiations between Brussels and the UK, when they start in March. Britain has already dismissed the EU’s stance as entirely out of step with the Canada-style deal that it is seeking.

Mr Frost reiterated that Britain is ready to trade on “Australia-style terms” if a free-trade deal cannot be struck — a situation which would essentially amount to basic WTO trading arrangements, with tariffs. 

The UK’s chief negotiator said that Britain accepted that its approach would mean “greater barriers” to trade but that the country was “not frightened” by this friction.  “We will be setting out in written form next week actually how we see the shape of the future relationship in more detail,” he said, adding that Britain was approaching the talks in “a pretty confident fashion”. [...]

In a sign of the strength of feeling about the issue, France’s Europe minister Amélie de Montchalin told reporters on Monday that the EU’s flagship policy to fight climate change — the green new deal — would be fundamentally undermined unless Britain commits to a robust level playing field of common regulations.

  “The green deal makes no sense in the EU if we accept that products that don’t respect, for example, the efforts that we are making on pesticides, on biodiversity, on chemical standards, on the price of carbon, can come into our space,” she said.

  “We cannot have at our doors . . . a competitor, that has chosen systematically to do things differently; then it’s our businesses, our fishermen, our farmers who are in danger,” she added.  [...]

Mr Frost said that he expected Britain “to have a huge advantage over the EU” in the years to come, including “the ability to set regulations for new sectors, the new ideas, and new conditions — quicker than the EU can, and based on sound science not fear of the future.”

Full article on Financial Times (subscription required)

David Frost lecture: Reflections on the revolutions in Europe

Related article on Financial Times: Brussels hits back at UK over level playing field

© Financial Times

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