Europe’s level playing field has disintegrated

North and South are today pursuing radically different policies, according to their economic means, and this will lead to radically different outcomes when Europe emerges from the Covid-19 depression.

“It destroys the argument that the EU is rule-compliant. It hits that narrative on the head,” says Prof Lorand Bartels, an expert on trade law and Brexit at Cambridge University.

It is also poisonous for the EU project itself. As matters stand, Barnier’s negotiating demand is that Britain must swallow the whole acquis of competition and state aid law – and future acquis through “dynamic alignment” clauses – as a condition for a normal free trade agreement (FTA) with normal global access to EU markets.

It must also swallow “level playing field” clauses on the environment, labour, and taxation. This extra-territorial demand over how we run our society as an independent state is extraordinary.

Level playing field clauses are of course normal in FTA deals. They are an assertion of general principle. They are nothing like the Barnier variant.

The FTA agreements with Canada, Korea, Japan, or Singapore obviously did not include such conditions (those countries would have walked away) and nor did the EU dare to utter such notions in its TTIP talks with the US (the Americans would have laughed).

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