Free trade agreement ‘very difficult if UK does not comply with EU standards’

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A free trade agreement will be “very difficult” to secure if Britain does not sign up to honouring Brussels’ rules on standards, according to Guy Verhofstadt.

The European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator said the scope of a trade deal during the upcoming negotiations would depend on Boris Johnson’s “willingness to comply with a number of standards of the European Union”.

The prime minister has previously ruled out following stipulations set by the EU after the transition period is over at the end of 2020.

Former Belgian prime minister Mr Verhofstadt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think both sides have an interest to be very ambitious.

“But how far this will go is very difficult to say because it will depend on what the willingness is of the UK side to also comply with a number of standards in the European Union.

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“We are always saying, ‘No tariffs? OK. No quotas? OK’.

“But also – no dumping. That can be state aid, that can be ecological standards, social standards.”

Asked what would happen if Britain does not sign up to such stipulations, he said: “It will be very difficult to have a broad free trade agreement at that moment.”

Verhofstadt was in London this week for meetings with ministers, including Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay who he met on Thursday.

He said one of the successes from the conversations was that those European citizens who had been granted settled status in the UK after Brexit would be given the ability to print out their confirmation details as proof.

Verhofstadt, chair of the EU’s Brexit Steering Group, said there would be “pressure” being placed on member states who had yet to get their own provisions in order.

Speaking to the BBC, he said he agreed with Labour MEP Seb Dance, who argued that the UK was taking a “sabbatical” from the EU and would be back in the future.

“I think that will happen, yes, (but) it’s difficult to say when,” said Verhofstadt.

“There will be a generation, the young generation coming in the coming decades, who will say later, ‘We want to go back’.

“It will happen. Maybe you will not see it in my life, but it will happen.”

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  • Show Comments
    1. You can’t help but think he’s right about a future generation wanting to return to the biggest free trade area in the World. I recall Mrs Thatcher celebrating the moment we joined. It was, as she said, the opportunity of a generation and decades of expanding trade and prosperity proved her right. A free market of near to 500 million relatively prosperous people – what was to dislike? The penny will drop perhaps sooner than later as business shrinks and we end up shafted by Trump over his deal. If Brits seriously thought the EU had it in for them and was underhand if not crooked then they might be shocked when they’re expected to swallow the outrages of Trump who will drive us crazy with On/Off hot/cold bullying. Even today just a few days into the New Year we have The Chancellor warning that we won’t keep to EU standards; he’s not warning ordinary people, a majority of whom are apparently eager to try lower US standards (?) but to business and industry. It’s a Hard Brexit after all. Recession seems inevitable and possibly something worse if Johnson gets into a spat with Brussels and we discover just how weak we will have become. So a Return seems quite possible but it will take 40-50 years before it becomes successful. I think Johnstone will be one of Britain’s villainous leaders, a King John of the modern era.

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