PARIS - European Union members said Tuesday they are ready to offer Britain a substantial and wide-ranging post-Brexit trade deal, but differences between the two sides are wide — even before they start talks next week.
Meeting in Brussels, European ministers set out clear negotiating lines for a future trade deal, beyond which they claim they will not budge.
Chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the 27 EU members want a fair and balanced partnership with Britain. But he acknowledged the talks will be difficult — especially given the year-end deadline the U.K. has set to wrap them up.
“We are ready to offer a highly ambitious trade deal to the U.K., but the U.K. cannot expect high-quality access to the single market if it is not prepared to accept guarantees that competition remains open and fair — free and fair,” said Barnier.
To get the best deal possible, EU members say Britain must adapt to the bloc’s rules and regulations in areas like environmental and working standards. London wants to set its own laws and standards.
And while the U.K. reportedly wants a Canada-style free trade agreement with zero tariffs, Barnier dismissed the prospect.
“The U.K. will be the EU’s third largest trading partner, almost 10 times bigger than Canada. At the same time, Canada is some 5,000 kilometers away. It’s clear the rules cannot be the same,” he said.
EU members also insist the U.K. honor commitments it has already made in Brexit negotiations last year, if it is to get a good deal moving forward.
Irish Sea border
Here’s Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney on the question of enforcing the Irish Sea border.
“The withdrawal agreement involves significant commitments in the context of Northern Ireland through the Irish protocol that both the EU and the U.K. need to follow through on. If that doesn’t happen, it will damage significantly the prospects of getting even a bare-bones trade agreement,” he said.
The first round of post-Brexit negotiations are set to begin in Brussels on Monday, before talks switch to Britain. Barnier said he’ll be providing a progress check in June.