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MPs urge UK to compromise and accept EU standards to get trade deal

By Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent

The UK should offer to “compromise” by agreeing to sign up to European Union standards in order to make a breakthrough in the trade negotiations with Brussels, MPs have said.

Following talks with Brussels on Monday, the Prime Minister called for a deal to be concluded by the end of July, urging the EU to “put a tiger in the tank” and step up efforts to secure an agreement.

The EU’s insistence that the UK adhere to a “level playing field” – conditions Brussels demands to ensure fair competition by keeping the UK closely tied to EU standards on workers’ rights, the environment and state subsidies – has so far proved a major stumbling block during the negotiations.

But MPs on the Future Relationship with the European Union Committee have called on ministers to “show where they are willing to move” by agreeing to follow “level playing field” terms as a base mark for UK standards when the transition period ends next year.

The committee’s recommendation is that should the UK then want to lower standards beyond the EU benchmark, it might have to accept a change in the level of European single market access available to the country.

According to the committee’s The Need for Progress in the Negotiations report, signed off unanimously by cross-party committee members, an independent body could be deployed to determine whether the change in standards “gave rise to an unfair competitive advantage” and whether any EU action was “reasonable”.

In the report published on Friday, the MPs said: “The UK’s and EU’s respective red lines make it difficult to find common ground on ‘level playing field’ issues.

“We urge the parties to look for a solution that takes as its starting point the de facto alignment of the UK and the EU when it comes to current rules and standards, and explore how the UK and the EU could be given access to their respective markets on the basis that if either side moves away from these standards, or acts in a way that one side believes gives the other an unfair competitive advantage, then that access could be varied.”

The report also urges the EU to give its chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, “greater flexibility in his mandate” in order to increase the likelihood of a deal being struck.

Hilary Benn, chairman of the committee, said: “Covid-19 has understandably dominated the efforts of political leaders in Europe since March, but negotiations with the EU remain critically important to the UK’s economic future.

“Whilst both sets of negotiators have worked hard in challenging circumstances, it has become increasingly clear that political leadership is needed if an agreement is to be reached in time to prevent the UK leaving the transition period on December 31 2020 without an agreement.

“With the global economy facing an unprecedented economic shock as a result of Covid-19, and just over four months left in effect to reach an agreement, both sides must show a willingness to compromise on the areas currently in dispute.”

The MPs’ report also echoed the call made by their elected counterparts in Brussels for no-deal preparations to be ramped up.

The current transition arrangements expire at the end of the year and MEPs on Thursday urged the EU to step up planning for a no-deal scenario on January 1.

Peers from the Lords European Security and Justice Sub-Committee joined in expressing concern on Friday about arrangements in place if no agreement could be reached.

Committee chairman Lord Ricketts has written to security minister James Brokenshire pressing for greater clarity on how the Government would ensure such an outcome “will not weaken law enforcement and security in this country”.

As the UK approaches the end of the transition period, Politico reported that a “shock and awe” campaign would be launched to prepare the public for the changes at the start of 2021.

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