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Analysis

‘Level playing field’ for EU means bumpy ride from Brexiters

by Nick Kent | 07.11.2018

May’s fall-back plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland includes a “bare-bones” customs union requiring the UK to adhere to a regulatory “level playing field” to prevent unfair competition with the EU. This would restrict the UK’s ability to negotiate ambitious free trade deals, and keep UK businesses bound by EU regulations while making us a rule-taker rather than a rule-maker.

This is the opposite of the “Singapore-on-Thames” desire of extreme Brexiters to dump EU regulations and slash taxes after Brexit. May is going to face a bumpy ride getting agreement to this through Parliament.

The EU has always been clear that any trade agreement with the UK must “ensure a level playing field”. This is both because we do a lot of trade with the EU and we physically neighbour it. If businesses could cut their taxes and regulatory burden after Brexit by moving to the UK, they might abandon the EU.

To prevent this, the EU wants to make sure that the UK cannot increase its business subsidies, cut taxes and scrap social and environmental regulations to reduce business costs. The EU has already included such “level playing field” clauses in its trade agreements with other neighbouring countries, such as Ukraine.

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But, say many Brexiters, what is the point of leaving the EU if you still continue to be bound by these sorts of rules? Well, yes indeed. To get round this, Brexiter ministers have been arguing that the customs union, which would come into force on 1 January 2021 if the UK and EU had failed to agree a trade treaty by then, should be time-limited. But that isn’t acceptable to the Irish government or the rest of the EU.

For the Brexiters, there could be worse to come. If the UK wants to stay in the customs union beyond 2020, the EU is likely to demand continuing access for EU fishing vessels. That’s not what Brexiter fisheries minister Michael Gove has promised the fishermen. But if he opposed it, May’s whole deal might come crashing down.

And there’s more. The issue of the level playing field will be central to the trade negotiations after Brexit. The greater the access the UK wants to the single market, the more it will have to concede on accepting EU rules. The more EU rules it retains, the greater the difficulty in getting trade deals with the US, China and other countries who want the UK to adopt their (usually lower) standards.

Aware of the strength of feeling in the EU on this, May’s messy Chequers plan promised that the UK would stick with EU competition rules as part of a proposed “common rule book” and that it wouldn’t scrap social and environmental protection either. But, as with the bare-bones customs union plan, the EU will want those promises written in a legally binding treaty.

The only easy way around this conundrum is to stay in the EU and continue to influence its rules to the UK’s benefit, as we have been doing for over 40 years. That’s why we need a People’s Vote.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

6 Responses to “‘Level playing field’ for EU means bumpy ride from Brexiters”

  • Nigel,

    Official EU voting records* show that the British government has voted ‘No’ to laws passed at EU level on 56 occasions, abstained 70 times, and voted ‘Yes’ 2,466 times since 1999,
    In other words, UK ministers were on the “winning side” 95% of the time, abstained 3% of the time, and were on the losing side 2%.

    Hardly ‘no influence’

  • What Nigel means is that our influence has waned since the referendum result, If we scrap Brexit I’m sure it will be restored in full measure

  • We are guilty of not paying attention to who is elected as MEPs to represent us in the European Parliment. Individuals who were deemed wanting when it came to elections in the UK for our own parliment, were often elected as MEPs.

    There, they were able to express their racist, xenophobic and anti EU policies and obstructions far from the public’s eye in the UK. Aided by the likes of Johnson, Dakre and Murdoch the UK was often kept in the dark about benefits that came with memebership of the EU. Only imagined mistakes and imagined examples of poor judgement were reported (uncontested) in the UK home news.

    Farage, who, rarely attended the EP except to disrupt proceedings, was given a platform, far beyond his relevance, to express his views as though he represented the true voice of Britain.

    The parliment he denounces in no uncertain terms, is the very organisation who’s fair and balanced terms of freedom to speak , that allows him to do so. Farage is able to insult leaders of other nations to their faces with impunity.

    As a country we must ensure that our MEPs are competent, hard working and genuinly committed to working with, and improving, the EU. This will benefit all the member states and the 500,000,000 who are lucky enough to live there.

    Let us hope that we can remain a partner and reap the rewards of membership.

  • Very well put, Mr Schrader. Your analysis is spot on. The problem we have in the UK is that the negative attitude towards Europe is of such long standing in the British establishment and in the minds of the general public, that I wonder if we could so quickly change tack and become cooperative, engaged Europeans.

    Britain still thinks it rules the world. Even though the Americans, the Russians, the Chinese, and many others will very quickly drive home the point that it doesn’t, just after we leave the EU.

    In order to “remain a partner and reap the rewards” of EU membership the population and its political class need to recognise the value of EU membership. Unfortunately, the truism in the old cliche that you don’t realise the value of something until it’s gone, will have to be overcome – and quickly.

  • Essentially Farage was a saboteur. I would say mole, except that he was not under cover. On the contrary he was allowed to openly insult the EU and boast about it. The EU needs to have some say over who is appointed and who is allowed to stay, as an MEP