An influential group of MEPs have said any future British government should be required to upgrade key employment, environment and competition laws to maintain free trade with the European Union.
A leaked copy of a draft resolution from the European parliament’s newly formed EU-UK co-ordination group suggests the UK should pledge to match European standards on workers’ rights, environmental protection and state aid, when the EU updates its rulebook.
The draft seen by the Guardian states that “a level playing field” should be guaranteed “through robust commitments” and “with a view to dynamic alignment”, listing competition, social and labour standards, environment and UN climate goals, and consumer protection.
The opening shot from the European parliament is a maximalist position likely to infuriate British Eurosceptics. It goes further than EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, who has suggested to diplomats in private that the UK should maintain current EU standards in most areas, in exchange for a zero-tariffs, zero-quota trade deal, an approach known as “non-regression”. (Although Barnier is thought to favour keeping the UK in step with the EU on state-aid policy.)
While the European parliament cannot bind EU governments to accept a more demanding “dynamic alignment” stance, its position may prove influential, especially as MEPs must approve the final deal at the end of the year.
Not all MEPs have decided whether they support the maximalist position. But many are worried about the EU being undercut by a ‘Singapore-on-Thames’ style UK, a fear British sources consider unfounded.
“It’s totally clear, but a lot of my colleagues will not accept that we have [UK] free access to the market, but some dumping situation in the United Kingdom in the production and processes,” the head of the parliament’s international trade committee, German Social Democrat Bernd Lange, told journalists recently. Lange is one member of the MEP group that drew up the draft resolution.
The resolution, which will be put to the vote of the full parliament next Wednesday, also:
- Urges Boris Johnson to “immediately clarify” his government’s approach to the Irish border agreement. MEPs voiced concern after the British prime minister repeated an incorrect claim that no checks would be required on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
- Proposes including gender equality in trade talks, with measures to combat the gender pay gap.
- Insists the UK sign up to the EU’s “evolving standards” on anti-money laundering.
- Recommends the UK should not be a net beneficiary of any EU programmes, threatening the UK’s beneficial position in research funding. The UK received more in EU research grants than it paid into the research programme (although it was an overall net contributor to the EU budget).
The resolution also throws light on a post-Brexit dispute settlement body, showing that the EU is ready to consider alternatives to the European court of justice, as long as they offer “equivalent guarantees of independence”. But the parliament text states that only the ECJ can interpret EU law, a likely EU red line that is already provoking anger among British Eurosceptics seeking to break free of European courts.
On regulation, the European parliament may be pushing at an open door, as France, Denmark and the Netherlands – vocal players in Brexit talks – have also voiced support for dynamic alignment in private meetings.
EU ambassadors meeting this week voiced support for the general idea that the UK should adhere to core EU standards in exchange for an unprecedented zero-tariff, zero-quota deal that does not exist in any other EU free-trade agreement.
“We are not going to agree that quota-free, tariff-free access, if there is no level playing field,” said one EU diplomat. “Because we cannot sell to our voters and to our companies … that they are being undercut by competitors. We are just not going to do that. Now in the eyes of the UK, this might seem unfair, this might seem overreach, but it’s the way politics is.”