Opposition to regulatory alignment not tactic in EU trade talks, Frost says
UK’s chief Brexit negotiator says trade talks would not extend beyond end of this year
EU officials remain deeply unconvinced by Boris Johnson’s professed commitment to raising regulatory standards. Photograph: Frank Augstein/AP Photo
The UK’s trade negotiating position with the EU, specifically its opposition in principle to regulatory alignment, is not a tactical gambit but a fundamental expression of “what it means to be an independent country”, the UK’s chief negotiator told an audience in Brussels last night.
“It is the point of the whole [Brexit] project,” David Frost said in a lecture to students and academics at the Université libre de Bruxelles.
Mr Frost said that the UK was not seeking a bespoke deal but the same sort of trade agreement the EU has signed with similar nations such as Canada, South Korea and Japan. He insisted that they had not been expected to align their regulatory systems with the EU, and the UK would not do so either.
He also repeated the UK’s determination not to seek a further negotiating extension beyond the end of this year, despite widespread concerns that will not leave enough time for talks to conclude.
“We bring to the negotiations not some clever tactical positioning but the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country,” Mr Frost said. “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 is 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 exposition of the UK’s opening position on the future-relationship talks with the EU, the first of several expected speeches by Mr Frost, is said to reflect the fact he sees secrecy as a key factor in Theresa May’s failure to reach an acceptable agreement with Brussels.
But, as has been pointed out repeatedly by EU negotiators, the UK “principled” stance will make it impossible to agree the no-tariffs, no-quotas pact to which the UK aspires. It is a tacit acceptance that a “free trade agreement” will be that in name only.
Brussels has also been reiterating that it does not see comparisons between the vastly larger market and geographical proximity of the UK and Canada as valid.
Mr Frost tried to turn the tables rhetorically on the EU by suggesting that it would resent any suggestion that it should align to potentially higher British regulatory standards. “Boris Johnson’s speech in Greenwich two weeks ago set out a record of consistently high standards of regulation and behaviour in the UK, in many cases better than EU norms or practice,” he said.
“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?”
EU officials remain deeply unconvinced by Mr Johnson’s professed commitment to raising regulatory standards.