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Mon, 6 April 2020

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Britain won't diverge from EU standards 'for the sake of it' after Brexit, says Stephen Barclay

Britain won't diverge from EU standards 'for the sake of it' after Brexit, says Stephen Barclay
3 min read

Britain will not diverge from European Union rules "for the sake of it" after leaving the bloc, according to the Brexit Secretary.

Stephen Barclay said the two sides would start from a "position of alignment" as they thrash out a host of agreements following Britain's departure.

His comments come after Chancellor Sajid Javid alarmed some businesses by saying there would "no alignment" with the EU after Brexit - and calling on firms to instead "adjust" to new regulations.

Mr Javid told the Financial Times: "There will be an impact on businesses one way or the other, some will benefit, some won’t."

But Mr Barclay - whose department is set to be abolished on 31 January when Britain leaves the EU - appeared to strike a softer tone in an interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr.

He said: "We're coming out of the single market. We're coming out of the customs union. We're not going to diverge just for the sake of it."

The Brexit Secretary added: "We need to look at where the opportunities are. But it is true that we are going to have control of our approach to regulation and that's the very essence of Brexit - is that we can do things differently.

"Particularly where for example, there's innovation, there's new technologies, there's things where we want to move quickly. So Brexit at its very core is that we will have control of our laws, our regulation and that is why we can't be a rule-taker. We need to have that opportunity."

European Union negotiators have already argued that any divergence from the bloc's rules and standards will come at the cost of reduced access to the EU's markets.


Ursula Von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said on a visit to London earlier this month: "Our partnership cannot and will not be the same as before.

"It will not be as close as before because with every choice comes a consequence. With every decision, comes a trade-off.

"Without the free movement of people, you cannot have the free movement of capital, goods and services.

"Without a level playing field on environment, labour and state aid, you cannot have the highest quality access to the world's largest single market.

"The more divergence there is, the more distant the partnership will be."

Some UK business groups have meanwhile warned that diverging from EU rules could hit the economy.

A letter sent to the Government late last year by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the Chemical Industries Association, the Food and Drink Federation, and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industries, said a failure to sign up to so-called 'level playing field' arrangements with the EU after Brexit could pose a "serious risk to manufacturing competitiveness".

But Mr Barclay insisted that the two sides could agree to a "win-win" set of agreements, as he confirmed that Boris Johnson would set out his "objectives" for negotiations in a speech in the coming weeks.

"Both sides are committed through the political declaration to having a zero-tariffs, zero-quotas free trade agreement," he said.

The Cabinet minister added: "This isn't about one side winning, one side losing. It's in both side's interests to keep the flow of goods going."

And he said: "The key issue is that we will have control of our rules, we will not be a rule-taker.

"We will not diverge for the sake of diverging: we start from a position of alignment. But the key opportunity is that we will be able to set our standards high, standards on workers' rights, on the environment, on state aid, as part of that trade policy."