latest EU nonsense from frost & his sidekick, plus barnier’s response

EU27 harden stance, Britain sounds defiant ahead of new deal talks
Gabriela Baczynska, Reuters, Feb 18 2020

BRUSSELS – The EU has hardened its stance ahead of negotiations on a new deal with Britain, which left the bloc at the end of last month, demanding lasting guarantees of fair competition, according to a document seen by Reuters on Tuesday. The draft of the negotiating mandate to be approved by the EU’s 27 member states doubled down from an earlier version on demands that Britain adopt a level playing field with the bloc on areas from state aid to labour and social standards. The EU’s new position emerged a day after PM Johnson’s Brexit adviser David Frost said in a lecture in Brussels:

To think that we might accept EU supervision on so-called “level playing-field” issues simply fails to see the point of what we are doing. That isn’t a simple negotiating position which might move under pressure, it’s the point of the whole project.

Britain left the EU at the end of last month, and the two sides are due to launch negotiations on their future relationship in early March. They aim to agree by the end of the year a deal that would cover a raft of issues from trade to security to fishing to space and environmental cooperation. The European Commission is negotiating from the EU side and national ambassadors of the EU27 states are due to discuss their updated mandate for the Brussels-based executive on Wednesday. It is due to get the final stamp of approval at a ministerial gathering later this month. Changes from a previous version of the mandate included the strengthening of the so-called level playing field provisions. The new text says:

The envisaged partnership should include an ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership, in so far as there are sufficient guarantees for a level playing-field, built to stand the test of time.

The 27 would also demand similar clauses for international maritime transport and other areas, the document showed. In a jibe at Britain, where the ancient Greek Elgin Marbles are on display at London’s British Museum, the draft document was also updated to say:

The Parties should address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin.

An EU diplomat said the line on cultural artefacts was proposed by Greece, with support from Italy. The 27 also stressed more firmly in the latest mandate that they would be taking on their own any decisions on so-called equivalence that would allow access for British financial services to the bloc’s single market.

Michel Barnier rejects UK call for Canada-style trade deal
Daniel Boffey, Groon, Feb 18 2020

Brussels – Michel Barnier has rejected British demands for a Canada-style trade deal that would free the UK from EU rules as he made a thinly-veiled warning to Boris Johnson not to break his word. Speaking in response to a landmark speech by David Frost, Britain’s Brexit negotiator, Barnier said such an offer was not on the table and noted that the prime minister had agreed only six months ago to stick to the EU’s state aid rules and current social and environmental regulations after the transition period. Asked if Frost was right in his speech on Monday night to say that agreeing to such alignment in a trade deal would be undemocratic, Barnier told reporters:

Truly not. It is a sovereign decision of the EU, it is a sovereign decision of the UK to cooperate … That is what Boris Johnson wrote in the political declaration.

The latest draft of the EU’s negotiating position calls for both sides to “address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin.” Within hours of Barnier’s comments, Dominic Cummings seized upon this change to the EU’s draft negotiating mandate, leaked it to the Guardian, suggested it was an attempt to win back the Parthenon marbles for Athens and responded:

This is just not happening, and it shows a troubling lack of seriousness about negotiations on the EU side.

The Downing Street intervention came despite both Greek and EU officials insisting that the clause, proposed by Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Greece, was not related to the marbles held by the British museum but merely to a desire to stop the fraudulent movement of antiquities around Europe. One senior EU source likened the row to throwing a “dead cat” on the table to divert attention from the fallout from Frost’s comments. The explosion of rhetoric on both sides of the Channel offers little hope that the next 11 months of talks will be smooth. In his speech on Monday night, Frost had set a tough line on EU demands by claiming the consent of the British public would “snap dramatically and finally” if the UK continued to be bound to the EU rulebook after December 2020. The latest EU negotiating mandate says those level playing field provisions should further develop “over time.” Frost went on to suggest that Brussels should offer a trade deal similar to that given to Canada, which avoided any European court of justice supervision of standards or demands on “alignment” with Brussels. Barnier’s response, and that of other EU officials, was one of polite fury. Sources said the EU negotiator had privately suggested to MEPs that the UK was backsliding on the political declaration on the future relationship signed last year. Barnier said:

We have proposed a trade agreement with a country that has a very particular and unique close geographical proximity not like Canada, not like South Korea and not like Japan. Very particular. We are ready to propose and work very quickly with Britain on the basis of the political declaration, which was agreed with Boris Johnson. We stand ready to propose this agreement, if the UK wants it.

Speaking separately, the EU’s trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, warned that the UK would bear “full responsibility” for its choices. Hogan said:

We’re looking for a level playing field and they don’t seem to want it. It’s a big worry for many of the manufacturing sectors in the UK. If they want to diverge from the existing rules and regulations, we are going to have problems. And the more they diverge from the existing EU law and regulations, the more problems we’ll have.

Guy Verhofstadt, a senior MEP and former prime minister of Belgium, who has led the European parliament’s approach to Brexit, said the UK was approaching the negotiation as if the sides were “living on two different planets.” He added that it would be a “hell of a job” to secure a successful outcome from the negotiation given the British approach.

Michel Barnier rebuffs Boris Johnson’s top negotiator over EU trade deal
Andrew Woodcock, Independent, Feb 18 2020

Michel Barnier has delivered a firm rebuff to Boris Johnson over claims that it would be “undemocratic” for Brussels to expect the UK to sign up to a “level playing field” on rules and regulations in a future trade deal. The claim was made in a high-profile speech last night by the prime minister’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost, who said that the ability for Britain to diverge from EU rules was the main point of withdrawal. But Mr Barnier said that agreement on common rules in areas like workplace rights and environmental protections was necessary to avoid unfair competitive advantages between businesses on opposite sides of the Channel. Brussels fears that the absence of shared regulations would result in the UK “dumping” cut-price goods produced to lower standards in its markets. He pointedly noted that Mr Johnson himself signed up to “robust” level playing field arrangements in the political declaration agreed with Brussels only a few months ago. And he cast doubt on the prospect of the UK securing the Canada-style trade deal which the PM is seeking without a commitment of this kind, insisting that Britain’s geographical proximity to the remaining 27-nation bloc meant the two countries’ positions were not comparable. In a signal that Brussels is not ready to budge on the position agreed with the UK in October, Mr Barnier said:

We remain ready to work very quickly with the UK on the basis of the political declaration agreed with Boris Johnson just a few months ago. We remain ready to propose a partnership if the UK want it.

The impasse points towards a strictly limited trade deal, or no deal at all, when the transition period to Brexit ends in December, raising the prospect of tariffs and non-tariff barriers on UK exports to the continent. Speaking in Brussels on Monday, Mr Frost said that the UK was “not frightened” by the threat of greater trade friction.“ Mr Frost said:

The ability for the UK to set its own rules isn’t a simple negotiating position which might move under pressure, it’s the point of the whole project.

Any attempt to force Britain to comply with Brussels regulations would be “unsustainable”, he argued, adding:

At some point democratic consent would snap dramatically and finally.

But Mr Barnier said that the level playing field demand was “truly not” undemocratic. he told reporters in Brussels:

It is a sovereign decision of the UK and the EU to put in certain subjects their rules, their norms in co-operation with each other. It is a sovereign decision of the EU, it is a sovereign decision of the UK to co-operate.

The chief EU negotiator pointed to last October’s political declaration document, in which Mr Johnson agreed to pursue a future relationship ensuring “open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field.” Barnier said:

It is formally written in the political declaration to prevent that distortion of competition, unfair competitive advantages. That is what Boris Johnson wrote in the political declaration. I am looking for a means calmly and seriously to translate into legal form the political commitments made with the UK – with the UK, not without it.

The EU remains ready to seek an “ambitious partnership” with Britain, but its “particular and unique geographical proximity” means that any deal cannot be directly compared with those struck with Canada, South Korea or Japan, he said.

UK will get Canada-style free trade deal ‘with a bit of luck’, says ex-Brexit department official
Adam Forrest, Independent, Feb 18 2020

Philip Rycroft, former permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union from 2017 to 2019, said comments by Boris Johnson chief Brexit negotiator will be seen as a “hardening of the government’s position.” David Frost used a major speech in Brussels on Monday to state that Britain will not accept EU supervision to create a “level playing field.” Rycroft, a strategic partner at Flint Global, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

I think what David was doing last night is explaining the government’s interpretation of that (level playing field), and some people will see that as a hardening of the government’s position.

Rycroft said the UK government “will stick to its guns” over dynamic alignment. He said:

We’re heading towards a basic Canada-style agreement, there’s been no doubt about that for some months now. With a bit of luck and a following wind, it may be zero tariff and zero quota, but there will be regulatory barriers to trade and so the conditions for doing business between the UK and the EU will change.

On the EU’s stance, he added:

Their big concern is the UK getting what they would see as an unfair competitive advantage over businesses in the EU. So while they may allow access similar to the Canadian or indeed the Japan deal, the conditionalities on that are likely to be tougher, the UK is a bigger trading partner right on their doorstep.

Boris Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator fires off warning to EU as trade battle begins in earnest
Lizzy Buchan, Independent, Feb 17 2020

Boris Johnson‘s chief Brexit negotiator will warn Brussels the UK must be able to set its own laws as the battle over the future trading relationship begins in earnest. In his first public intervention, David Frost will tell an audience in Brussels that anyone who believes the UK could abide by EU rules “fails to see the point of what we are doing.” He will insist that the UK is not bluffing over its opposition to “EU supervision” on so-called level playing field issues, which include vital protections for workers and the environment. It comes as France’s foreign minister warned the two sides would “rip each other apart” in trade talks ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period in December. Mr Frost will outline the UK’s position in lecture at the Universite libre de Bruxelles on Monday, in a move that marks a significant departure from the secrecy that surrounded Theresa May’s approach to the Brexit negotiations. He is expected to say:

We bring to the negotiations not some clever tactical positioning but the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country. It is central to our vision that we must have the ability to set laws that suit us, to claim the right that every other non-EU country in the world has. So to think that we might accept EU supervision on so called level playing field issues simply fails to see the point of what we are doing. It isn’t a simple negotiating position which might move under pressure. It’s the point of the whole project. That’s also why we will not extend the transition beyond the end of this year. At that point we recover our political and economic independence in full. Why would we want to postpone it?

The prime minister’s Europe adviser will argue that the UK’s standards of regulation are often higher than the EU and that democratic consent “would snap” if either side was forced to accept the other’s rules. Mr Frost will ask:

How would you feel if the UK demanded that, to protect ourselves, the EU dynamically harmonise with our national laws set in Westminster and the decisions of our own regulators and courts.

He will call for “open and fair competition provisions” in any free trade agreement and say both sides must build on other EU trade deals to strike a bargain. The call comes after French foreign minister Jean-Yves le Drian predicted a bruising battle on a post-Brexit deal. Speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference, he said:

I think that on trade issues and the mechanism for future relations, which we are going to start on, we are going to rip each other apart. But that is part of negotiations, everyone will defend their own interests.

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