The government released legal texts for the proposed EU free trade deal yesterday, with some trade experts claiming the UK’s demands are in excess of what Brussels has allowed in previous deals.
Talks between the EU and UK are at a crossroads, after little progress has been made on several key areas in the first three negotiating rounds, and with time running out for the two sides to ratify a deal by the 31 December deadline.
Chief UK negotiator David Frost has called the EU’s negotiating stance untenable and has accused Brussels chief negotiator Michel Barnier of not treating Britain as a “sovereign country”.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove yesterday said the EU “wants us to obey the rules of their club, essentially, even though we are no longer members” and that Brussels had been more reasonable in trade negotiations with other nations.
Major flashpoints between the two sides have been over EU access to UK fishing waters and future business competition regulations or the so-called level playing field.
The legal texts released yesterday outline what Frost and his team are specifically asking for, after the UK’s objectives were outlined in a February white paper.
However, trade experts told the Financial Times that the UK was trying to have it both ways, by asking to benefit from some aspects of the EU single market without any of the responsibilities of being a member.
UK director of the European Centre For International Political Economy, a trade think tank, David Henig said: “[The UK is] looking for more than Canada, Korea or Japan in exchange for the same — or probably even less — in terms of level playing field provisions.”
Centre for European Reform research fellow Sam Lowe added: “The British request to have British qualifications recognised by default, subject to terms and conditions, goes far beyond the EU-Japan deal, or the Ceta deal with Canada.
“This is not necessarily impossible but it is not the kind of things the EU hands readily in its free trade agreements.”
There is one more negotiating round between the UK and EU, before the two sides take a break to assess progress.
UK officials have said they will walk away from talks and prepare for a no-deal scenario if the EU does not compromise its stance on fisheries or the level playing field.
The EU is asking that its member states retain the same access to UK fishing waters as when Britain was a part of the bloc, which has been shot down by Frost and his team.
Brussels is also asking that the UK match its regulations on things such as environmental laws, workers’ rights and state aid to businesses to maintain a “level playing field” for businesses on both sides.
In return, the UK would continue to trade with zero tariffs or quotas with the EU.
Frost described the EU’s position on the level playing field as “the major obstacle” to talks and that “the EU’s insistence on including a set of novel and unbalanced proposal…would bind this country to EU law or standards, or determine our domestic legal regimes, in a way that is unprecedented in Free Trade Agreements”.