EU warns UK it will accept ‘zero’ environmental dumping in free trade deal

The European Commission’s top Brexit official has said the UK can only hope for a comprehensive free trade with the EU if it commits to “zero dumping” on environmental standards.

Speaking to a group of newspapers yesterday, Michel Barnier, who has led the Brexit negotiations for the Commission, restated the EU’s requirement for high regulatory standards in exchange for good access to the bloc’s internal market. 

“Access to our markets will be proportional to the commitments taken to the common rules,” he is quoted as saying in the Guardian. “The agreement we are ready to discuss is zero tariffs, zero quotas, zero dumping.”

Barnier will lead the EU’s negotiating team in future trade talks with the UK, saying that they could begin “the day after” parliament ratifies the withdrawal agreement.

His comments mirror provisions set out in the non-binding political declaration signed by prime minister Boris Johnson and the Commission. It states that “the precise nature” of level playing field commitments will depend on “the scope and depth of the future relationship”.

While Johnson has said he can guarantee the government will uphold environmental standards after Brexit with a non-regression clause, a pledge confirmed on Monday by environment minister Rebecca Pow, he told European Council president Donald Tusk that “the laws and regulations” to deliver environmental standards “will potentially diverge” from the EU’s. 

Writing on Twitter, Brendan Moore, an academic at the Tyndall Centre and coordinator of the Brexit & Environment research network, noted that Johnson’s commitment to non-regression came “in response to a question on standards, which the government has clearly distinguished from laws/regulations”. 

“I would think there would be a relatively low risk that a future government would legislate to remove the broad non-regression commitment at the level of environmental standards because it enjoys broad support,” Moore told ENDS.

“The question becomes: which areas of UK environmental law and regulation will be constrained by level playing field commitments and which will not? In policy areas that are less constrained, how will future governments maintain or change environmental standards, law, and regulation?” he added.

“It will be important for this and future governments to be clear about what, exactly, they are committing to when they say ‘non-regression’.”

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