As the clock struck midnight on 1 February, the UK concluded its 47-year membership of the European Union.
The UK will, however, remain bound to EU rules for the duration of 2020 in a transition period, during which the UK and EU will negotiate a trade agreement. The UK is also allowed to begin trade negotiations with other third countries during this time.
Looking beyond emotional farewells from both UK and EU politicians, the biggest area of concern in Brussels is the degree to which the UK will maintain regulation of standards. Speaking this morning, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: ‘We will not engage in some cutthroat race to the bottom. We are not leaving the EU to undermine European standards. We will not engage in any kind of dumping, whether commercial or social or environmental...The UK will maintain the highest standards in these areas – better, in many respects – than those of the EU, without the compulsion of a treaty.’
The Commission published its draft mandate for opening negotiations this morning, alongside a presentation from Michel Barnier. Barnier again stressed the importance of a level playing field, which is the only way the UK will maintain zero tariff and zero quota access to the EU’s single market. He spoke further on standards, saying: ‘Of course where our rules converge, either where the UK chooses to match our standards or, for example where activities are subject to
international regulations that we share, it will be easier for business to exchange on both sides of the channel. The more we have common standards, the higher quality access the EU will be able to offer to its markets. But this will be up to the UK to decide.’
While UK businesses might benefit from UK-tailored standards, they may also suffer if the UK is unable to negotiate a free trade deal and imports from the EU are subject to tariffs.