EU leaders are reportedly set to insist on tough enforcement measures for any trade deal with Britain, warning that Boris Johnson’s bid to override the Brexit treaty shows the UK’s word cannot be trusted.
Leaders will call on chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to ensure that so-called level playing field guarantees for EU businesses competing with British ones receive Brussels’ backing to take quick retaliatory action if the UK breaches its commitments, the Financial Times reported.
At a summit starting on Thursday, France and other EU fishing nations will emphasise their determination to preserve quota rights in British waters, leaving Barnier with limited space to tease out a deal, the newspaper reported.
The bloc wants to secure consistent rights to fish in British waters — an important issue for France, whose coastal fishing communities are politically influential. Britain wants a deal closer to that of Norway — not an EU member state — under which quotas are set each year.
Johnson has set a deadline of the 15 October EU summit for agreement on a trade deal. The summit is being seen in Brussels as the moment EU leaders return to the Brexit issue after months spent focusing on the coronavirus pandemic.
An EU diplomat said on Friday Barnier wants a few more concessions from the UK before entering the last intense phase of negotiations on a deal. Barnier has said that 31 October is the “realistic deadline” for a deal to be reached if new trade arrangements are to be implemented by the end of the post-Brexit transition period on 1 January.
Johnson told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday that progress must be made in post-Brexit trade talks with the EU in coming days to bridge “significant gaps”, in particular in the areas of fisheries and the level playing field, Number 10 said.
Both sides have made overtures in the past week, with Barnier urging EU leaders to give him more room to manoeuvre on fishing rights, while chief UK negotiator David Frost said Britain was willing to discuss state aid policy commitments that “go further than you normally do in a free trade agreement”.
However EU diplomats told the FT that European leaders would press Barnier on the need to ensure any level playing field arrangements could be upheld in practice, including provisions for the bloc to take “interim” and “autonomous” measures before a dispute settlement panel has ruled, as well as to “cross-retaliate” against different sectors of the UK economy.