David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator in Brussels, is understood to have informed EU diplomats last week that the British government hopes to secure a looser agreement with the bloc, with less stringent requirements for regulatory alignment.
The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the previous government set out a number of conditions to retain a “level playing field” on environmental rules, while under the controversial ‘backstop’ the UK would commit to adhering to some EU green protections.
Draft Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community
20 Nov 2018
Prime minister Boris Johnson is fiercely opposed to the current backstop, which would come into force after the end of a transition period if the UK and EU fail to sign a future trade deal that avoids a hard border in Ireland.
Frost told diplomats that the backstop should be stripped of several key elements, including article 10 on agricultural and environmental rules, according to BBC journalist Adam Flemming.
The FT reports that the European Commission told member states earlier this week that the UK government intended to diverge from EU standards, calling for a more limited set of level playing field obligations on issues such as social and environmental standards.
However, DEFRA has repeatedly said the government is committed to upholding green protections after Brexit.
“As we have already made very clear, we will not weaken any of our high environmental or animal welfare standards when we have left the EU on 31 October,” a department spokesperson told ENDS this week. “Where possible we will even look to enhance these standards even further.”
Environmental group coalition Greener UK said EU negotiators were not the only people to be “alarmed” by the reports.
Shaun Spiers, Greener UK chair and director of Green Alliance, told ENDS yesterday that environmental campaigners are increasingly worried “that the government’s post-Brexit vision is of a low-standards Britain leaning towards US-style regulation”.
Meanwhile, David Gauke, the former justice minister who was stripped of the Conservative Party whip after voting to block no deal, said the news shows “the government doesn’t have a credible proposal to replace the backstop. That means, without parliament intervening, we’d crash out on 31 October.”
A Commission spokeswoman confirmed that technical meetings between the UK and the EU are taking place today. “For progress to be made in the talks it remains crucial that the EU does receive concrete proposals on all changes that the UK would like to see. Of course in compatibility with the Withdrawal Agreement,” she added.