Brussels accused the UK on Wednesday of not sticking to its commitment to “level playing field” conditions in exchange for a post-Brexit trade deal.
Stefaan De Rynck, an adviser to EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, said it was a source of concern that Britain was failing to honour the “level of ambition” agreed in last year’s negotiated divorce deal.
The latest intervention comes as both sides prepare for the formal start of trade talks next month, with the EU set to finalise its negotiating mandate next week.
In October 2019, Boris Johnson accepted language in the political declaration, the non-binding preliminary text, on maintaining a “level playing field” for standards and regulations in future competition.
But in a speech on Monday David Frost, Britain’s top negotiator with Brussels, rejected the kinds of “level playing field” conditions that EU capitals insist must form the backbone of any future-relationship agreement.
Speaking at the London School of Economics, Mr De Rynck said the EU and UK “share values such as free enterprise, open economies, social justice”, adding that “it cannot be rocket science to agree common standards”.
Downing Street says it is requesting a similar deal to those granted to other “friendly” countries such as Canada, South Korea and Japan. The UK argues these have not required non-EU nations to stay in line with EU rules and standards.
EU officials say this approach fails to recognise the geographical proximity between the UK and the EU, and the complex trade links between both parties.
Mr De Rynck insisted the EU’s trade deals with Canada and Japan included commitments on maintaining the level playing field. But he added: “It’s clear that for us it’s a different ball game that we are playing with the UK to the one that we agreed with Canada in terms of the level playing field.
“Some in the UK now seem to want to become Canadians,” he added. “But Dover is much closer to Calais than Ottawa is.
“So, in terms of zero-tariff, zero-quota access, this brings a lot of benefits to the UK economy and with benefits come obligations.”
With the rhetoric on both sides becoming more heated in the countdown to the trade talks, a social media spat developed on Wednesday as Brussels hit back at a hostile tweet from Number 10 which suggested that the Brexit chief negotiator had shifted the EU’s position on granting the UK a Canada-style trade deal.
“In 2017 the EU showed on their own slide that a Canada type FTA was the only available relationship for the UK,” Number 10 tweeted. “Now they say it’s not on offer after all. @MichelBarnier what’s changed?”
Piqued by Britain’s allegations of hypocrisy, Brussels published a slide on Twitter underlining the volume of trade between the UK and EU which it said created particular risks for the bloc’s businesses. It denies it has moved the goalposts of any future trade deal.
EU diplomats also complain that Britain’s repeated claim that it wants a “Canada-style” trade deal belies the fact that the UK wants market access that is much more extensive, including tariff-free, quota-free trade on all products — even for sensitive parts of the agriculture sector such as beef and dairy.