Geert Bourgeois, trade spokesman with European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the assembly, was speaking at a time when the nature of UK/EU relations remains uncertain. EU negotiator Michel Barnier and UK opposite number David Frost have now completed a fourth round of talks aimed at thrashing out a post-Brexit trade deal, with no indication of a breakthrough in the offing.
Mr Bourgeois’s group is advocating a pragmatic approach, and is calling for “level-headed discussions” rather than “hysteria and the desire for political retribution”.
The Belgian, who was elected to the European Parliament last year, said: “The European Parliament should take extreme care so as not to patronise the British Government.
“The UK is a highly developed country with high standards.
MEPs Brussels Brexit Boris Johnson
Belgian MEP Geert Bourgeois
“Therefore, a high level of confidence and flexibility during the negotiations is in order.”
He added: “We need to strike an appropriate balance between ensuring a level-playing field and dynamic alignment on the one hand, and guaranteeing UK sovereignty on the other.
“We should, however, absolutely avoid a ‘Singapore-on-the-North Sea’.
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David Frost and Michel Barnier have exchanged tetchy letters in recent weeks
Mr Bourgeois said a “Singapore in the North Sea” needed to be avoided
“Both parties must maintain high standards for this level-playing field and in so doing we must, therefore, ensure that it does indeed become a deep and comprehensive future agreement with zero-tariffs and zero-quotas.”
The so-called Singapore model envisages an ultra-business-friendly environment with low or zero corporation tax aimed at attracting businesses to relocate to the UK.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph in 2017, Brexiteer Tory MP Owen Paterson said: “President Macron in France is terrified that Britain will break away from the slow-moving European caravan and seek to emulate the Asian tigers.
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Brexiteer Owen Paterson
Mr Paterson said Emmanuel Macron was “terrified” of the Singapore model
“He wants all European horses in the race saddled with equal top weight, but if we are to reap Brexit’s full rewards, we must carry the lightest weight.
“To take one example: the EU is opposed to tax competition, yet it is well established that lowering the rate of corporation tax increases revenues.
“As the Government has cut the main rate, now just 19 percent, revenues have surged, up 21 percent in 2016-17 on the previous year.
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“Even allowing for changes to the reporting date, this still represents a 12.6 per cent increase on a purely cash basis.”
In a message aimed at then-Chancellor Philip Hammond, Mr Paterson added: “As we battle our way to the door and prepare to say goodbye to Brussels, the Chancellor should recognise that Brexit means bravery and boldness. Let Singapore be our model.”
Mr Barnier and Mr Frost’s relationship has been characterised by tetchy exchanges in recent weeks.
Mr Frost wrote to Mr Barnier last month describing Brussels’ trade deal offer as a “low quality trade agreement”.
Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Mr Barnier wrote back, suggesting an exchange of letters was not the best forum for discussion.
He added: “It cannot be a substitute for serious engagement and detailed negotiations.
“In particular, I would not like the tone that you have taken to impact the mutual trust and constructive attitude that is essential between us.”
On Friday Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove confirmed the UK would not be extending the transition period, which will come to an end at the end of 2020.