Brexit deal ‘a different ball game’ to Canada agreement, warns EU | Politics

Downing Street’s hopes of a Canada-style trade deal with the EU have been dealt a further blow after a senior adviser to Brussels’ chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the bloc’s relationship with the North American country was a “different ball game”.

As the two sides prepare for the start of negotiations next month, Stefaan De Rynck highlighted the UK’s proximity to Brussels compared with Canada as a key factor, as well as warning that the trade talks could get “rather difficult”.

The key aide also repeated what has now become an EU mantra that a tariff-free, quota-free deal is not possible without the UK committing to a “level playing field” on state subsidies, environmental protections and workers’ rights.

This week the UK government’s trade negotiator, David Frost, gave a speech in Brussels calling for a “Canada free trade agreement-type relationship”. He said that “to think that we might accept EU supervision on so-called level playing field issues simply fails to see the point of what we are doing”.

In response, Barnier said the UK could not have the same trade deal with the EU as Canada. He said the EU was ready to offer an “ambitious partnership” with the UK, but he said its “particular proximity” meant it would be different.

After 47 years and 30 days it is all over. As the clock strikes 11pm on Friday, the UK is officially divorced from the EU and will begin trying to carve out a new global role as a sovereign nation. It was a union that got off to a tricky start and continued to be marked by the UK’s sometimes conflicted relationship with its neighbours. Here’s a run-through the beginning, the middle and the end.


The French president, Charles de Gaulle, vetoes Britain’s entry to EEC, accusing the UK of a “deep-seated hostility” towards the European project.


Sir Edward Heath signs the accession treaty giving entry to the EEC in an official ceremony that was accompanied by a torch-lit rally, dickie-bowed officials and a procession of political leaders including former prime ministers Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home.
Lisa O’Carroll


The UK decides to stay in the common market after 67% voted “yes”. Margaret Thatcher, later to be leader of the Conservative party, campaigned to remain.

‘Give us our money back’

Margaret Thatcher negotiated what became known as the UK rebate with other EU members after the “iron lady” marched into the former French royal palace at Fontainebleau to demand “our own money back” claiming for every £2 contributed we get only £1 back” despite being one of the “three poorer” members of the community.

It was a move that sowed the seeds of Tory Euroscepticism that was to later cause the Brexit schism in the party. 

The Bruges speech

Thatcher served notice on the EU community in a defining moment in EU politics in which she questioned the expansionist plans of Jacques Delors, who had remarked that 80% of all decisions on economic and social policy would be made by the European Community within 10 years with a European government in “embryo”. That was a bridge too far for Thatcher.

The cold war ends

Collapse of Berlin wall and fall of communism in eastern Europe, which would later lead to expansion of EU.

‘No, no, no’

Divisions between the UK and the EU deepened with Thatcher telling the Commons in an infamous speech it was ‘no, no, no’ to what she saw as Delors’ continued power grab. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper ratchets up its opposition to Europe with a two-fingered “Up yours Delors” front page.

Black Wednesday

A collapse in the pound forced prime minister John Major and the then chancellor Norman Lamont to pull the UK out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

The single market

On 1 January, customs checks and duties were removed across the bloc. Thatcher hailed the vision of “a single market without barriers – visible or invisible – giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people”.

Maastricht treaty

Tory rebels vote against the treaty that paved the way for the creation of the European Union. John Major won the vote the following day in a pyrrhic victory. 

Repairing the relationship

Tony Blair patches up the relationship. Signs up to social charter and workers’ rights.


Nigel Farage elected an MEP and immediately goes on the offensive in Brussels. “Our interests are best served by not being a member of this club,” he said in his maiden speech. “The level playing field is about as level as the decks of the Titanic after it hit an iceberg.”

The euro

Chancellor Gordon Brown decides the UK will not join the euro.

EU enlarges to to include eight countries of the former eastern bloc including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

EU expands again, allowing Romania and Bulgaria into the club.

Migrant crisis

Anti-immigration hysteria seems to take hold with references to “cockroches” by Katie Hopkins in the Sun and tabloid headlines such as “How many more can we take?” and “Calais crisis: send in the dogs”.

 David Cameron returns with reform package.

Brexit referendum

Britain leaves the EU

Speaking at the London School of Economics on Wednesday, De Rynck said: “If you allow some irony, some in the UK now seem to want to become Canadians. But of course Dover is much closer to Calais than Ottawa is. The distance from Dover to Calais, and – thanks to the foresight of Margaret Thatcher and others – the speed of connection to the tunnel, is of course much quicker than what we have with our Canadian friends. So proximity matters.”

He said what mattered was the interconnectedness between economies. “Dislocating zero-quota, zero-tariff access, this brings a lot of benefits to the UK economy and with benefits come obligations,” De Rynck said. “And it’s clear that for us it’s a different ball game that we are playing with the UK to the one that we agreed with Canada in terms of the level playing field.”

He also said a written statement by Boris Johnson on 3 February, in which the prime minister outlined Downing Street’s proposed approach to negotiations, was a “source of some concern”.

On the same day, Johnson gave a speech in Greenwich in which he claimed the UK would not need to accept EU rules in trade. He outlined the government’s red lines but gave none of the detail that would be expected from parties about to embark on trade talks.

EU member states are due to confirm the bloc’s negotiating objectives at a meeting next week but the UK’s plans to publish a mirror document next week have reportedly been cancelled.

De Rynck said: “We’re certainly also looking forward to the UK document that was promised for next week. We, of course, have read the speeches that were given over the last week, also by the prime minister in Greenwich on the 3rd of February and other statements …

“One written document that came out on the 3rd of February was the ministerial statement, which I cannot hide from you is a source of some concern in terms of the level of ambition of the political declaration not perhaps being fully met always by what is said in that ministerial statement.

“Notably on issues such as level playing field, the court of justice and internal security cooperation, the overarching governance framework which we have agreed with the United Kingdom.”

Canada’s deal with the EU, which took seven years to negotiate, eliminates most import tariffs on goods but not all. It also increases quotas – the amount of a product that can be exported without extra charges – but does not remove them entirely.

The UK is in a transition period, after leaving the EU on 31 January, and has until the end of the year to hammer out a trade deal with Brussels. Until then, the country still follows the majority of EU rules.

Highlighting the potential difficulty of negotiating in a tight timeframe, De Rynck said: “We have a vast amount of work and we seem to have 10 months to do it, or less than 10 months if you calculate the time for ratification so that everybody can be ready on January 1, 2021 for the new regime.

“I would expect some of these negotiations to be rather difficult, perhaps more difficult that during withdrawal because the scope of issues is so much vaster.”

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