EU at WAR: Europe infighting over Barnier trade deal plan leaves Brexit on brink of chaos

After weeks of internal wrangling, EU ambassadors decided they needed more time to hammer out the final details of the bloc’s negotiating strategy ahead of formal trade talks with Britain. Mr Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, now faces having to start discussions with his UK counterparts without an official mandate signed off by the bloc’s remaining 27 member states. If the capitals continue to drag their feet, the Frenchman’s scope for negotiations will be severely limited.

EU sources said senior diplomats would meet again on Monday in hope of reaching an agreement to allow a smooth start to the negotiations.

But one ambassador suggested the row over whether Britain should be tied to EU rules and standards could mean any agreement on Mr Barnier’s negotiating guidelines be delayed further.

The document is scheduled to be rubber-stamped by Europe ministers as a General Affairs Council in Brussels next Tuesday.

An EU diplomat told a French-led bloc of countries are holding out for hardened language on the so-called “level-playing field” to be included in Mr Barnier’s mandate.

Some member states have argued that Paris’ demands go too far and risk imploding negotiations with Britain.

President Emmanuel Macron wants the UK to dynamically align itself to large swathes of the EU’s rulebook.

A draft document circulated ahead of the meeting, seen by, said Mr Barnier should negotiate a “level playing field that will stand the test of time”.

It adds: “The envisaged partnership should include an ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership, insofar as there are sufficient guarantees for a level playing field so as to uphold corresponding high levels of protection over time.

“These commitments should prevent distortions of trade and unfair competitive advantages so as to ensure a sustainable and long-lasting relationship between the Parties.”

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Under the EU’s plan, Britain would be expected “uphold” the EU’s standards for state aid, taxation, environmental and workers’ rights “over time”.

But the Government has clearly rejected such approaches, which Brussels claims are necessary because of Britain’s “proximity” to the bloc.

A UK spokesman said: “We are clear we are not asking for a special, bespoke or unique deal.

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“We want a Canada-style free trade agreement, which the EU has frequently said is on offer.

“There are arrangements for fair and open free trade deals that are proven to work, there is no reason that our proximity to the EU should mean extra restrictions on trade.”

British officials have told their EU counterparts they are ready to start talks right away, but formal negotiations are expected to begin in early March.

Yesterday Mr Barnier said Britain would be expected to sign up to greater level-playing field provisions than set out in Canada’s deal with the bloc.

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