Boris Johnson’s plans to diverge from EU rules after Brexit will reduce the bloc’s willingness to strike an ambitious trade deal with the UK, officials and diplomats in Brussels have warned. Mr Johnson’s team this week told their EU counterparts they want to abandon prior commitments made by Theresa May to maintain a “level playing field” in areas including environment and social standards in exchange for a free-trade area for goods.
However, Britain’s new demand clashes with EU conditions for trade negotiations and is fuelling concerns among governments and within the European Parliament, which would have a binding say over any deal. EU trade deals require approval from the EU parliament and the Council, which represents national governments.
Any pact with Britain is also likely to require ratification in national parliaments. The European Commission told a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday that, given the political resistance in Europe against the recent Canada free trade deal and also to talks with Latin America’s Mercosur bloc, the obstacles to ratifying a UK trade agreement should not be underestimated. “There could be problems to ratify an FTA at any subsequent stage unless this [level playing field] is balanced,” the commission said, according to a diplomatic note of the meeting. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, told the FT on Thursday that “asking for a basic trade deal with the Union while refusing regulatory alignment and tearing up their level playing field commitments means the UK will find it very difficult to achieve an ambitious trade agreement with the EU”. “In this scenario, ratification would be further jeopardised,” he said.