Barnier: the bloc ‘will not barter away our European values to the benefit of the British economy‘ (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images) Barnier: the bloc ‘will not barter away our European values to the benefit of the British economy‘ (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)

Brexit: EU won’t sacrifice green values in UK trade deal, Barnier says

The European Commission’s top negotiator in the post-Brexit talks has signalled that the UK would have to uphold a level playing field on environmental standards even in a less ambitious deal than the ‘zero tariff’ and ‘zero quota’ arrangement proposed by the EU.

Addressing reporters on Friday, Michel Barnier restated his commitment to including environmental and climate protections as part of any deal between the EU and UK, warning that the bloc “will not barter away our European values to the benefit of the British economy”. 

Barnier was responding to comments made by Michael Gove, the UK’s de facto deputy prime minister, who earlier this month said that the UK would be prepared to see some tariffs on goods in order to regain autonomy over level playing field rules.

However, Barnier said Gove’s position would require a “detailed and extremely sensitive negotiation on each of the tariff lines” that could last for many years, as the EU’s recently concluded talks with Canada and Japan have shown. 

Even then, the EU would demand “the same strong guarantees of the level playing field because it is precisely that which forms part of our demands and our commitment to address the challenges of the future, to protect certain public goods, to protect consumers”, he added.

He expressed his surprise that the UK government had so far resisted discussing environmental and climate change commitments as part of the agreement given the country’s net-zero law and officials’ repeated assurances that they do not intend to water down green rules. 

A UK government spokesperson said in early May that the country “does not require an additional binding international legal commitment” on climate change beyond the global deal it signed in Paris in 2016.

David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, said on Friday that the EU’s level playing field demands were “novel and unbalanced” and would “bind” the country “to the EU law or standards, or determine our domestic legal regimes”. 

He added: “As soon as the EU recognises that we will not be able to conclude an agreement on that basis, we will be able to make progress.”

Barnier acknowledged that the EU’s proposal went further than any previous trade deal signed by the bloc, but said it would reject “a kind of ‘best of’ of the free trade deals signed with Canada, Korea or with Japan”. The EU, he added, “looks towards the future, not to the precedents of the past”. 

EU trade policy “can and must serve in the interests of sustainable development”, he said, with “a new, modern and demanding vision linked to major changes, particularly climate change”.

Follow-up: Barnier press conference, European Commission draft agreement

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