Last week, Brussels said it was willing to hammer out a compromise with Britain on the sensitive issue of “level playing field” rules for business. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said his team was willing to work with the UK on a “credible and operational” framework for so-called level playing field commitments. These aim to ensure close alignment between the two sides’ state-aid, environmental and employment regulations.
However, he insisted the EU would not allow anything to jeopardise the integrity of the single market.
He said in a webcast organised by the European Policy Centre think-tank: “We are ready on this point, as well as on the fishing issue, governance, and some other issues where we are divergent, we are ready to work on landing zones respecting the mandate of the EU.
“We are ready to work on operational and clever compromise but not at the price, never at the price, of any unravelling of the single market. Never.”
Brussels wants the UK to continue to obey EU rules and norms after the transition period, in an attempt to prevent the post-Brexit nation from gaining a competitive advantage over member states still saddled with EU rules.
But Britain is demanding the right to diverge from those rules in order to strike new trade agreements around the world that it thinks will bolster its economy.
In a recent podcast by the CATO institute, US trade expert Simon Lester analysed Brussels’ tactics in the negotiations and dubbed its position untenable.
He said: “The EU is expressing concerns about the UK deregulating or offering new subsidies in a way that gives them an unfair advantage and they want rules to deal with that.
“I think the Europeans are exaggerating those fears a bit.
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“That won’t work. The UK is never going to agree to that.
“You have to write it with some flexibility.”
The latest round of Brexit trade talks in Brussels is due to begin today.
Mr Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost will begin five days of talks on issues ranging from fisheries to state aid and criminal justice.
It marks the first face-to-face meeting of the two negotiators since March.
This week also marks the beginning of five weeks of “intensified” talks, after little progress was made in the previous five rounds.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen held a high-level meeting earlier this month aimed at establishing common ground to break the deadlock.