The Cabinet has warned that Britain may ditch Brexit trade talks in June and “focus solely” on the no-deal Brexit option if no tangible progress is made by the time, as follows from an address by Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove, who formally launched the UK’s negotiating mandate.
While Britain has vowed to maintain high standards it would not give in to EU ground rules, Gove told Parliament on Thursday, thereby underpinning earlier reports.
“The government seeks a free trade agreement with robust protections for the environment and labour standards", Gove said, ruling out EU checks:
“But we do not see why the test of suitability in these areas should be adherence to EU law and submission to EU models of governance", he noted.
As Gove put it, Brussels had never sought to apply the rules it suggests vis-a-vis the UK to the free trade agreements that it had previously inked, stressing that they “should not apply to a sovereign UK”.
Gove dismissed the EU’s narrative that a greater and more comprehensive overhaul of regulations is necessary due to the UK being closer to the EU and enjoying a tighter relationship than countries like Canada.
“Geography is no reason to undermine democracy", he pointed out.
Separately, Berlin, which will take over the rotating EU presidency in July, and Paris don’t likewise rule out the trade talks missing the end of June deadline set in the joint political declaration, predicting a “dramatic crisis” over the summer.
The EU considers the British threat to walk away from the June talks to be exaggerated: “This is probably a very fair timeline to take for the UK", they said.
Here are some highlights of Britain’s newly-unveiled negotiating mandate for the looming talks with Brussels.
Britain is expected to try to form bilateral agreements with the EU countries that can, constitutionally, extradite citizens to states outside the bloc. Downing Street said that the Cabinet was seeking a better arrangement than the current European arrest warrant.
“The safety and security of our citizens is the government’s top priority, which is why we have said the agreement with the EU should provide for fast-track extradition arrangements based on the EU’s arrangements with Norway and Iceland", Downing Street spokesman noted.
Environmental and Labour Laws
The government concedes that it will by no means “weaken or reduce the level of protection” in terms of labour and environmental standards. However, it asserts at the same time that even if it is the case, the commitment should not fall under the EU’s dispute resolution schemes.
Brussels wants Britain to be yoked to the EU’s existing environmental and labour laws to meet the “level playing field provisions”. Separately, it also wants a mechanism that would force Britain to keep up with the EU's legal updates, if laws become stricter, under what is known as “dynamic alignment”.
Access to Fishing Waters
Whitehall is proposing to hold annual talks to pinpoint the extent to which EU fishing fleets can access British waters. Brussels meanwhile insists that “existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and quota shares” and “current distribution keys for fishing opportunities” should continue to be maintained.
"We will not link access to our fishing waters to access to the EU markets. Proximity is not a reason for us to accept the EU rules and regulations", Gove remarked.
Britain seeks to arrive at “legally binding obligations on market access” for financial services and well as free and fair competition.
The EU is insisting that access for financial services is a unilateral matter that should not be stipulated by any trade deal. Brussels doesn’t rule out UK financial institutions’ operations in the EU, but warns it can axe the opportunity at three months’ notice should it have any concerns.
State Aid Debacle
The UK government has long insisted it should have its own state aid scheme that should “not be subject to the agreement’s dispute resolution mechanism”. Brussels wants the UK to act in tune with all parts of its own state aid regime along with case law and in this respect abide by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Michael Gove set a four-month deadline to agree the “broad outline” of a deal, saying that in the event of a no-go, ministers would decide whether they should walk away from further talks over summer, to effectively zero in on preparations for a no-deal scenario.
Now that both sides have come up with their post-Brexit negotiating lines, the first round of talks is due to kick off in Brussels on Monday and is set to last until Thursday. A second round is scheduled to be held in London later in March.