In a week that saw divisions rise between the EU and UK over citizens’ rights, use of migration data and Westminster’s approval of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, main headlines on Brexit focussed on Commission President von der Leyen and Prime Minister Johnson’s meeting in Downing Street. After a giving a ‘love bomb’ speech at the LSE, von der Leyen discussed plans for an ‘unprecedented’ deal with the Prime Minister, raising concerns over regulatory alignment on both sides.
Prior to meeting Boris Johnson, von der Leyen spoke on the limitations of the future trade deal at the LSE. While promising the EU was entering the negotiations ‘from a position of certainty, goodwill, shared interest and purpose’, she warned that ‘the more divergence there is, the more distant the partnership will be’.
An interest in rapid divergence was confirmed by Conservative MPs on the same afternoon. Downing Street released a statement that Boris Johnson has refused any kind of alignment or jurisdiction under the European Court of Justice.
Speaking on Politics Live, Crispin Blunt MP said that the UK will set its own standards on environmental standards and workers’ rights. If the EU should insist on regulation on these areas as a requirement of a free trade deal, Blunt stated the UK will say no to the deal.
UK Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers further confirmed divergence from environmental regulation, expressing her desire for the UK to ‘shake of the shadow of the CAP’. She instead hopes to create a ‘system tailed to [the UK’s] needs…based on the principle of public money for public goods’.
Such divergence in regulation could come in contention with the Commission’s desire to form a relationship with the UK with ‘zero tariffs, zero quotas and zero dumping’, which makes up part of its 'level playing field' committment. If the environment becomes a sticking point in negotiations, it will have a spill over effect on other areas of the trade deal, which could negatively harm businesses in both the UK and EU in the short to medium term.
On 9 January, Michel Barnier made clear that the entire future relationship is conditional on the level playing field and fisheries. The Commission hopes to complete the fisheries deal by the summer and agree on the nature of the level playing field before moving on to other policy areas. The UK has so far no clarified its opening position.