Brussels is ready to quicken EU-U.K. trade talks with weekly meetings and find “compromises” on rules for fair competition, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said Wednesday — but insisted Britain would not be allowed to cherry-pick terms or backtrack on existing promises.
“We have very little time, and that’s why I have asked the British negotiator, David Frost … to accompany the negotiation rounds in July, August and September by more restricted meetings between us every week,” Barnier told the European Economic and Social Committee.
He added that the EU was also willing “to eventually decide between the rounds, if there is a true British engagement in favor of certain subjects that we care about, to organize more specific meetings to advance on certain issues.”
Barnier said he regretted that after the first four negotiation rounds with London, he was “forced to note that the British negotiators refuse to seriously engage with us in four areas that we consider as essential.” He listed those as fisheries, police and judiciary cooperation, the governance structure of the future deal, and a level playing field ensuring equal environmental, labor and competition rules.
On the level playing field, one of the thorniest issues of the negotiation, Barnier said he was “ready to find compromises,” but insisted that “the British must transcribe in a legal format what we have agreed in the Political Declaration” on a post-Brexit relationship. He did not elaborate further what such compromises could be.
In the Political Declaration, signed by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson last year alongside the Withdrawal Agreement, both sides agreed a future deal must be accompanied by a level playing field to “prevent distortions of trade and unfair competitive advantages.”
Barnier urged the EU to “look beyond short-term adaptation costs” that could arise if no deal is reached before the year’s end, and instead consider “our long-term economic interests — even more so in the context of ensuring Europe’s economic recovery after the coronavirus crisis.”
Emphasizing that “we cannot accept the U.K.’s attempts to cherry-pick parts of our single market benefits,” Barnier said: “Do we really want to consolidate the U.K.’s position as a certification hub for the EU, knowing that it already controls some 15-20 percent of the EU’s certification market? … Do we really want to take a risk with rules of origin that would allow the U.K. to become a manufacturing hub for the EU?”
The EU chief negotiator also brushed off Frost, who said last month that London was only asking for what Brussels had already offered other trading partners — and that it had a right not to be treated worse than them.
“The truth is that in many areas, [the U.K.] is asking a lot more than Canada, Japan or any of other free trade partners,” Barnier said. “It is looking to pick and choose the most attractive elements of the [EU] single market without the obligations.”
He said that there was “no automatic entitlement to benefits given by the EU under previous free trade agreements,” and added: “Every agreement with have, with Canada, South Korea or Japan, has been tailor-made to the partner with which we negotiated.”
Responding to Barnier’s comments, a spokesperson for the U.K. government said: “Brexit is about economic independence and we gain more by being able to design our own rules to suit the best interests of our businesses and people in future.”
The government also reiterated it will not extend the transition period that ends December 31. “Throughout the negotiations we’ve been clear that we will not extend the transition period and, if offered an extension from the EU, we won’t accept it,” the spokesperson said.