Brexit: EU set to agree UK trade talks mandate

European Union flags in front of the Berlaymont Building in Brussels Image copyright Getty Images

Ministers from the EU will meet later to approve their mandate for post-Brexit trade talks with the UK.

The document approved by the EU General Affairs Council on Tuesday morning will be the basis for future negotiations, to be carried out by Michel Barnier.

It will say that a trade deal should be based on EU rules in some areas as “a reference point”.

Meanwhile, UK ministers will also meet at No 10 to discuss the government’s opening stance for negotiations.

The final agreement is due to be published online and presented in Parliament on Thursday.

BBC Brussels correspondent Adam Fleming said the EU document is important “because experience shows the EU will only accept a final deal with the UK on trade, security and other matters that comes close to conditions set out in it”.

For a free trade agreement, the EU will demand measures to ensure fair economic competition.

In international taxation, environmental and employment law this would involve shared standards that evolve over time, with EU rules as “a reference point”.

It also means the EU still wants its rules on government support for companies – so-called state aid – to apply in Britain whatever happens, which has already been rejected by Boris Johnson.

It is expected that ministers in the UK will commit to seeking a Canada-style agreement with zero tariffs, a proposal Mr Johnson and his Europe adviser David Frost have set out in speeches in recent weeks.

But the push for a Canada-style deal could set up a clash with the EU after its chief negotiator Mr Barnier ruled out such an agreement.

Mr Barnier has previously said the UK is too close in proximity to be permitted to compete with the other 27 member states on such terms.

Image copyright EPA Image caption The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier will lead talks with the UK on future trade relations

The prime minister’s official spokesman, asked about the trade talks on Monday, said: “The UK’s primary objective in the negotiations is to ensure that we restore our economic and political independence on 1 January 2021.”

Mr Frost and his team will head to Brussels for the first round of negotiations on 2 March.

One clash expected with the forthcoming publication of the EU’s negotiation mandate is on fishing, with leading member states speaking regularly about wanting continued access to UK waters.

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