The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has fired a warning shot across any British attempt to slash red tape after it leaves the bloc, saying mass deregulation would scupper hopes of a lasting trade deal with EU member states.
Transcripts of Michel Barnier’s evidence to the Lords select committee earlier this month show he warned peers that EU countries would kick out against trade negotiations if Britain does not maintain a “level playing field” with its European neighbours.
“It will be said that Brussels is conducting negotiations with the UK to downgrade environmental and social standards, for example, which will lead to more tax competition,” he said, in comments published yesterday.
“If that happens, everything is over.”
The government’s Repeal Bill will bring all EU law onto UK statute books; however, it also seeks to give the government the ability to edit the law through so-called Henry VIII powers.
Some factions backing Brexit have argued the UK will prosper when it leaves the EU because it will be free from burdensome regulations. However, Barnier said the UK would face “major difficulties” ratifying a new trade deal if it went down that path.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday after the second round of negotiations, Barnier struck a similarly unforgiving note, implying UK civil servants had turned up to the negotiating table unprepared.
He said the two sides had outlined areas of agreement and conflict, but only “for the issues on which there was a clear British position”.
Brexit secretary David Davis was more upbeat, however, boasting he had brought 98 civil servants to Brussels and that his team had conducted the first round of talks “at pace”.
The issue of the so-called “Brexit bill” remains contentious. Davis admitted there was still a lot of work to do before a financial settlement with the EU was resolved and insisted both sides must be flexible to move forward.
Barnier told peers earlier this month that Britain would cause an “explosion” in Europe if it reneged on its financial commitments.
Meanwhile yesterday, British business leaders met Prime Minister Theresa May as part of a new council intended to forge better links between government and the commercial sector.
Business groups and City leaders have not been pressing for wholesale deregulation during Brexit talks.
Instead, they have called for the UK to secure a transitional arrangement as soon as possible.
A Number 10 spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister reiterated that the government’s overarching goal is for a smooth, orderly exit culminating in a comprehensive free trade deal with the EU, with a period of implementation in order to avoid any cliff-edges.”