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Thu, 22 October 2020

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Brexit row deepens as UK accuses Brussels of treating it as ‘unworthy’ partner in trade talks

Brexit row deepens as UK accuses Brussels of treating it as ‘unworthy’ partner in trade talks

David Frost has already called for a “change in EU approach”.

4 min read

The European Union is treating Britain like an “unworthy” partner as the two sides try to thrash out a deal on their future relationship, according to the UK’s chief negotiator.

In a hard-hitting letter to his EU counterpart Michel Barnier, David Frost accused the bloc of offering Britain only a “low-quality trade agreement coming with unprecedented EU oversight of our laws and institutions”.

And he added: “It does not have to be like this.”

Laying out a string of concerns with the stalled talks on the future relationship as Britain published its own draft free trade agreement, Mr Frost insisted the UK should be able to sign a trading deal similar to those offered to the bloc by Canada or Japan.

And, amid a deadlock over other key areas of an agreement, he said: “Our draft fisheries agreement is very close to the EU / Norway Agreement.

“Our aviation proposals are similar to those the EU has agreed with other third countries. 

“Our draft civil nuclear agreement is very close to similar cooperation agreements that Euratom (and indeed the UK) has concluded with other third countries. And so on.

“Given this reality, we find it perplexing that the EU, instead of seeking to settle rapidly a high-quality set of agreements with a close economic partner, is instead insisting on additional, unbalanced, and unprecedented provisions in a range of areas, as a precondition for agreement between us.”

Accusing the EU of not being “willing even to replicate provisions” in previous free trade agreements, he accused the bloc of offering Britain lower access to its market on services than that handed to Australia and New Zealand.

“Overall, we find it hard to see what makes the UK, uniquely among your trading partners, so unworthy of being offered the kind of well-precedented arrangements commonplace in modern FTAs,” he said.

A key point of contention in the talks remains Britain’s objection to a raft of “level playing field” provisions demanded by the EU in exchange for market access.

The two sides previously agreed “prevent distortions of trade and unfair competitive advantages”, with Brussels calling on the UK to maintain consistent standards with it on workers’ rights, state aid, tax and environmental protection as part of allowing high access to its single market.

But Mr Frost told Mr Barnier: “The EU is now asking the UK to commit to much more than that. 

“Your text contains novel and unbalanced proposals which would bind this country to EU law or standards, and would prescribe the institutions which we would need to establish to deliver on these provisions.”

Britain is meanwhile continuing to object to an EU call for the European Court of Justice to be given a role in mediating trade disputes between the two sides.

Mr Frost warns: “You must see that this is simply not a provision any democratic country could sign, since it would mean that the British people could not decide our own rules to support our own industries in our own Parliament.”

And he adds: “Similar issues manifest themselves across labour, environment, climate change and taxation. We have been clear that the UK will have high standards and, in many cases, higher standards than those in the EU.

"However, we cannot accept any alignment with EU rules, the appearance of EU law concepts, or commitments around internal monitoring and enforcement that are inappropriate for an FTA.”

Signing off his letter, the UK’s negotiating chief says: “I remain convinced that it would be very straightforward for us to agree a modern and high-quality FTA and other separate agreements, like those you have agreed with other close partners around the world, and that we could do so quickly. 

“I do hope that in the weeks to come the EU will think again about its proposals in a way that will enable us to then find a rapid and constructive alternative way forward.”

'CONSTRUCTIVE'

The missive from the UK’s top negotiator came as Britain published a 291-page draft free trade agreement, a move the Government hopes will allow the bloc’s member states to see its proposals without relying on the European Commission

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “We are publishing them as a constructive contribution to the negotiations so they are available to all and so that the Commission can share the text with the member states.”

But they added: “We are not seeking to negotiate directly with member states and never have.”

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Alistair Carmichael meanwhile renewed his party’s call for Britain to extend the current transition period with the EU, due to expire at the end of the year.

He said: “The warnings from experts couldn’t be clearer, there is not enough time for the UK to secure a deal with the EU.

“The UK government’s draft trade agreement published today was too little too late. Boris Johnson should have published those texts months ago.

“At a time when our NHS, economy, and food supply chains are already overstretched, the UK government must do all they can to prevent any further pressure on these vital systems.”

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