A top eurocrat has driven a coach and horses through Michel Barnier’s attempt to to lock UK into EU rules and regulations after Brexit.
The EU’s chief negotiator dismissed Boris Johnson’s requests to seal a Canada-style trade deal, insisting the UK must sign up to draconian level-playing field provisions because of its proximity to the bloc. But Phil Hogan, the EU’s trade commissioner, has undermined his colleague’s argument for a special, bespoke and unique pact that ties Britain into the Brussels’ state aid, taxation, environmental and workers’ rights standards. In a letter to the Dutch parliament, the Irishman made clear the EU’s deal with Canada already contains acceptable “fair trade” provisions.
He wrote to parliamentarians in the Hague to reassure them over fair competition and insisted CETA does not need “monetary or trade sanctions” to enforce standards, like being demanded of Britain.
“I gather that concerns have been raised on the effectiveness of Ceta’s provisions on trade and sustainable development in particular due to the lack of monetary or trade sanctions,” Mr Hogan said.
“I would like to emphasise that CETA’s rules on environment and labour are solid and anchored in a vast network of underlying international conventions and agreements, including the Paris Agreement on climate change.
“These provisions are legally binding and enforceable through a dedicated dispute settlement mechanism.”
”One in seven jobs in the EU depends on international trade.”
“In addition, CETA’s Article 24 sets ambitious rules on environmental protection, notably with regard to the respect of key Multilateral Environment Agreements, including in particular the Paris Agreement.”
A UK source close to the negotiations also said: “Given that the EU is praising the level playing field commitments in CETA in this way, it’s surprising that they’ve suggested they would not be willing to accept similar provisions in a trade deal with the UK.
“It is worth noting that there is no reference to the ECJ in CETA, and no commitment to dynamic alignment on regulation. In its current form, the EU mandate asks the UK to commit to aligning with the EU’s standards forever.”
Downing Street is arguing that similar provisions used by Canada can enforce the new UK-EU level-playing field.
Mr Johnson’s chief negotiator, David Frost, has told his European counterparts that he would walk away from negotiations if Brussels demands anything more.
A UK source said: “We are clear we are not asking for a special, bespoke or unique deal. We want a Canada-style free trade agreement, which the EU has frequently said is on offer.
“There are arrangements for fair and open free trade deals that are proven to work, there is no reason that our proximity to the EU should mean extra restrictions on trade.”
Britain will argue in future talks that the Canadian deal contains no role for the European Court of Justice when settling disputes.
Ottawa’s pact with Brussels also doesn’t contain any provisions that keep Canada in lockstep with the EU’s rules.
Meanwhile, EU capitals failed to reach an agreement in a row over the bloc’s level-playing field demands.
EU sources said senior diplomats would meet again on Monday in hope of reaching an agreement to allow a smooth start to the negotiations.
But one ambassador suggested the dispute over whether Britain should be tied to EU rules and standards could mean any agreement on Mr Barnier’s negotiating guidelines be delayed further.
The document is scheduled to be rubber-stamped by Europe ministers as a General Affairs Council in Brussels next Tuesday.
An EU diplomat told Express.co.uk a French-led bloc of countries are holding out for hardened language on the so-called “level-playing field” to be included in Mr Barnier’s mandate.
Some member states have argued that Paris’ demands go too far and risk imploding negotiations with Britain.
President Emmanuel Macron wants the UK to dynamically align itself to large swathes of the EU’s rulebook.
Draft document circulated ahead of the meeting said Mr Barnier should negotiate a “level playing field that will stand the test of time”.
It adds: “The envisaged partnership should include an ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership, insofar as there are sufficient guarantees for a level playing field so as to uphold corresponding high levels of protection over time.
“These commitments should prevent distortions of trade and unfair competitive advantages so as to ensure a sustainable and long-lasting relationship between the Parties.”
Under the EU’s plan, Britain would be expected “uphold” the EU’s standards for state aid, taxation, environmental and workers’ rights “over time”.