Barnier Promises to Prioritise Trade Deal, But Says UK Can’t Ignore EU Regulations

Chief EU negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier addresses a press conference at the end of a general affairs council on Article 50 negotiations with the United Kingdom at the Euroepan Commission in Brussels on March 19, 2019. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP) (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty

The EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has reportedly said Brussels would prioritise a post-Brexit trade deal — but it will come at the cost of the UK adhering to the bloc’s rules on environmental protection and workers’ rights.

Mr Barnier told MEPs during a closed meeting in Strasbourg on Tuesday that Brussels will prioritise agreeing on fundamental trading arrangements with the UK during the 11-month transition period, according to those present at the meeting who spoke to the Financial Times.

Those briefed said that the basic free trade agreement would secure quote-free, duty-free trade in goods. Another top priority for the bloc is finalising security and defence cooperation. Other more complex issues such as road haulage could take longer, Mr Barnier said.

The UK is set to leave the EU on January 31st, 2020, and the veteran French politician reportedly said that EU member states would be presented with a draft mandate for trade negotiations in February before talks with the UK begin on March 1st.

Brexit day was initially slated for March 29th, 2019, with the following 21 months’ transition period to be utilised for drafting a trade deal between the UK and EU; however, after the Conservative government delayed the exit three times, that schedule is now limited to 11 months. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged that he will not use the option to extend the transition period another two years beyond the end of December 2020.

However, Mr Barnier also said that the successful conclusion of talks is dependent on the UK agreeing to abide by specified Brussels regulations: notably on environmental standards, workers’ rights, and consumer protections.

Similar comments were made by France’s trade minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne this week when he said that the EU could strike a “unique” trade deal so long as the UK “played fair”.

Speaking to The Guardian in comments published on Tuesday, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator said that failure to abide by those standards would be met with a “proportional” response.

“Access to our markets will be proportional to the commitments taken to the common rules,” Mr Barnier said. “The agreement we are ready to discuss is zero tariffs, zero quotas, zero dumping.”

The issue of “dumping” relates to making products cheaper by so-called unfair competition and led Mr Barnier to say that it was in the UK’s interest to adhere to the EU’s “fair” competition rules rather than “wild” deregulation.

With future trade deals needing to be agreed by the EU-27, Mr Barnier told the newspaper: “Don’t underestimate the difficulties of the process of ratification.”

If those regulations prove too restrictive, it could hinder the UK in striking FTAs with other countries around the world.

Mr Barnier’s confidence that a basic FTA could be struck in less than a year comes after he had expressed some doubt on the matter, saying that Brussels failing to agree on a future trade deal with London in a No Deal 2.0 scenario was a possibility.

This week, fanatic Remainer Tony Blair reiterated his fears that the UK may diverge from the EU, deregulate, and not sign a deal with the bloc.

“The Europeans are not going to allow a Brexiteer-led British government to establish a competitor with access to their market but undermining their rules,” Mr Blair said on Monday.

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