The U.K. faces a choice between keeping the European economic model or deregulating in the hope of a trade deal with the U.S., the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator said.
In a strident intervention coinciding with Brexit talks resuming in Brussels, Michel Barnier told a conference in Rome that comments by the U.S. commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, in which he called for the U.K. to diverge from the European regulatory model, had left him “wondering” about prospects for a future U.K.-EU trade partnership.
Speaking in London this week, Ross said that the U.K. should avoid signing up, in its Brexit deal with the EU, to anything that hindered U.K.-U.S. trade such as European food and automotive production standards.
Barnier, speaking at a conference hosted by the Italian banking association, questioned whether the U.K. wanted to leave “the European model” of social, health and economic standards and instead embrace a less-regulated, U.S. style model.
“When I hear the U.S. Trade Secretary Wilbur Ross calling in London for Brits to diverge with Europe to better converge with others — towards less environmental, sanitary, food but also probably financial, taxation and social regulation — I am left wondering,” he said.
“The U.K. decided to leave the EU. But will it also move off the European model? This is another question. There is behind the European regulatory framework fundamental societal choices we hold dear: the European social market economy, health protection, food safety, a fair and efficient financial regulation.”
His comments crystalize the dilemma that the U.K. could face in any future trade talks with the EU.
Thus far, the two sides have not discussed their future partnership, with the EU demanding “sufficient progress” on withdrawal issues, such as the U.K.’s financial obligations, first.
But looking ahead to trade talks, Barnier said that the commercial relationship between the EU and the U.K. would have to be based on “common game rules” and, since the U.K. and the EU currently have the same regulations, managing divergences such as those called for by Ross.