EU: UK needs ambitious Brexit trade deal, not WTO terms

BRUSSELS (AP) – The European Union (EU) will only offer Britain unique access to its vast single market if the United Kingdom (UK) agrees to stick to the bloc’s standards, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said yesterday, dismissing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s idea of brokering a loose trade deal with the bloc.

Von der Leyen said she was surprised that Johnson even raised the possibility of negotiating an Australia-style free trade deal, including quotas and tariffs with the EU, if he can’t reach a comprehensive agreement. She criticised Johnson’s plan yesterday in front of a small audience at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

“Australia is a strong and like-minded partner, but the European Union does not have a trade agreement with Australia,’’ said von der Leyen, the head of the bloc’s powerful executive arm. “We are currently trading on World Trade Organization terms.”

Von der Leyen added: “If this is the British choice, we are fine with that. We can decide to settle for less, but I personally believe we should be more ambitious.”

Britain left the EU on January 31 — the first nation ever to do so — but it is continuing to follow EU regulations at least until the end of the year. During the transition period, the British government and EU leaders will try to negotiate a free trade deal and agreements covering other areas like security cooperation.

Britain wants the trade agreement to cover goods and services and exclude almost all tariffs. However, Johnson has been adamant that the UK won’t keep following all of the EU’s regulations. To strike deals with other countries, Johnson wants the flexibility to subscribe to varying standards for areas such as competition, state aid or even the environment.

Von der Leyen insisted that the 27-nation EU is offering Britain “something we have never offered before to anybody else” on the condition that the former EU nation guarantees fair competition and protections for workers and the environment.

On Monday, the leader of Scotland’s government warned that Britain would pay a “heavy cost” if it abandons EU rules and standards. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also reiterated her desire for a referendum to win Scotland’s independence from the UK and the possibility to join the EU as a member country.