Evening Standard | 19 May 2020
UK publishes draft EU free trade agreement in bid to break Brexit negotiations deadlock
by David Child
The UK has published its terms for a free trade agreement with the European Union as it looks to ramp up pressure on Brussels amid faltering talks over post-Brexit relations with the bloc.
Announcing the move in Parliament on Tuesday, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the Government had taken the decision to make public the UK’s draft legal texts "to help facilitate discussions" in upcoming rounds of negotiations.
Among the 12 documents being published is a 291-page draft comprehensive free trade agreement.
Meanwhile, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss on Tuesday also published the tariff schedule the UK would operate at the end of the transition period for those countries with whom the UK does not have a free trade agreement.
The moves came after the third round of talks between UK and EU negotiators once again ended in stalemate last week.
Current sticking points between London and Brussels include disagreements over how fishing access will work after the ongoing transition period ends in December and the EU’s call for Britain to continue following level-playing field arrangements.
Making the UK’s proposition public on a host of topics, ranging from energy to law enforcement, means all of the EU 27 member states will be able to see the offer on the table, not just the European Commission, which is conducting the talks.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters at a briefing: “We are publishing them as a constructive contribution to the negotiations so they are available to all and so that the Commission can share the text with the member states.”
But the spokesman added: “We are not seeking to negotiate directly with member states and never have.”
Mr Gove meanwhile told the House of Commons that the EU wanted the UK to continue to follow its rules while itself refusing to row back on fishing rights.
“The EU essentially wants us to obey the rules of their club even though we’re no longer members and they want the same access to our fishing grounds as they currently enjoy, while restricting our access to their markets,” he told MPs when answering an urgent question about the third round of talks.
He added: “To help facilitate discussions in the fourth round and beyond, the Government has today published the full draft legal text that we’ve already shared with the Commission and which, together with the EU’s draft agreement, have formed the basis of all discussions.
“The UK texts are fully in line with the Government’s document entitled The Approach To The Future Negotiations, which was published on 27 February.”
The former justice secretary said success in the fourth round of the talks, due to start on June 1, “depends on the EU recognising that the UK is sovereign”.
Reacting to the UK’s move, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said he welcomed the “transparency” being shown.
“I welcome the UK’s publication of draft legal texts today," he said in a post on Twitter.
“Transparency is very important in negotiations."
Mr Barnier also remarked that the European Commission had itself published a comprehensive legal agreement over two months ago, and, looking ahead, emphasised the need for progress in negotiations as the transition period progresses towards its scheduled December 31 expiry date.
“In the next round, we must make tangible progress across all areas, including level-playing field and governance," he said.
As it stands, the UK is set to leave the EU’s single market and customs union at the end of this year, when the Brexit transition period is set to expire.
It can be extended, if both parties jointly sign off on such a move by the end of June. The Government has repeatedly ruled out prolonging the transition period, however.
Signalling the Government’s intentions to change its regulatory arrangements after the transition period comes to an end, Ms Truss on Tuesday confirmed that post-Brexit tariffs will see duties axed on around £62 billion worth of imports.
The Department for International Trade said the new regime - to be called the UK Global Tariff (UKGT) - will also see tarrifs protected for industries such as agriculture, automotive and fishing.
Items such as dishwashers, freezers and even Christmas trees will see zero tariffs under the regime, while the Government said cooking products such as cocoa and baking powder will also be levy free.
The UK will also see thousands of tariff variations on products scrapped - including more than 13,000 tariff variations on products including biscuits, waffles, pizzas, quiches, confectionery and spreads.
Ms Truss said: “Our new Global Tariff will benefit UK consumers and households by cutting red tape and reducing the cost of thousands of everyday products.
“With this straightforward approach, we are backing UK industry and helping businesses overcome the unprecedented economic challenges posed by coronavirus.”
The Government has said it will maintain a 10 per cent tariff on cars, as well as those on agricultural products such as lamb, beef, and poultry to protect British industry.
It has also set a temporary zero tariff rate on some products used to fight Covid-19 which would otherwise charge a levy under the new regime, though it added that most pharmaceuticals and medical devices - including ventilators - are set to be tariff-free.