UK, EU clash over alignment in Brexit trade talks
The opening salvos of trade talks between the European Union and UK were fired on Monday as both sides clashed over alignment of rules in any post-Brexit agreement.
In Brussels, chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier reiterated the bloc's demand that a close alignment with its rules would be central to any deal struck by the December 31 deadline.
"This will be up to the UK to decide. Will it continue to adhere to Europe's societal and regulatory model in the future or will it seek to diverge?" he said.
"The UK's answer to this question will be fundamental to the level of our ambition of our future relationship. The UK must know this."
However, in diplomatic sabre-rattling from London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was adamant that there would be divergence as he set out Britain's stance on the upcoming talks in a speech at the former Naval College in Greenwich, a symbol of the UK's long-gone days as an imperial power.
“There is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection, the environment, or anything similar any more than the EU should be obliged to accept UK rules,” he said.
Barnier cited the political declaration which stated that “the future relationship must ensure open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field”.
"That means mechanisms to uphold the high standards we have on social, environmental, climate, tax and state aid matters," Barnier told a news conference.
“There can’t be possibly any surprise on the British side to hear that, if we are acting in good faith here. I say that because in the text of the political declaration … There are some very clear words there … A full chapter that talks about the description of the level playing field and the objective of having fair and open competition."
“We are not asking for alignment – I know it is a sort of red rag to the UK. I mention it sparingly if at all. What we are a looking for is consistency.”
He added there must also be an agreement on fishing, a potential flashpoint, with continued reciprocal access to markets and waters.
However, Barnier sounded a note of warning that even if a "best-in-class" trade deal was agreed, commerce between the UK and EU would not be "business as usual" as customs rules would have to be enforced with access to EU markets subject to "certification and market authorisation and supervision activities".
He also reminded the UK that its financial services providers would no longer enjoy EU "passporting rights" for their operations.
"These are the automatic and mechanical consequences of the UK's choices and businesses must adapt now to this new reality," he said.
On security co-operation, Barnier said a role for the European Court of Justice would be a key element – particularly around the area of data sharing and dispute resolution.
"The UK should commit itself to applying the European Convention on Human Rights,” he told reporters.
"Secondly, the British government should set up adequate standards for data protection - this is an essential concern for the Europeans and this is something that the European Parliament is paying a great deal of attention to.”
"Thirdly, any co-operation should be subject to an effective dispute settlement mechanism.”
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Sunday called on the UK to tone down the “nationalist rhetoric”.
“Let’s not set such rigid red lines that makes it hard to come to an agreement and let’s tone down the kind of nationalistic rhetoric,” he told the BBC.