European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier called on London to commit to high environmental standards in any trade deal with the bloc as the U.K. prepares to host the next round of global climate talks.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to host the United Nations summit, known as COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, shortly before the deadline for the U.K. and EU to strike an agreement on their future relationship. As a precondition for any deal, the bloc wants Johnson to apply the same environmental protection rules as today.
“A modern trade agenda is about more than economic exchanges and commercial opportunities -- modern trade is sustainable trade,” Barnier said during a debate in Brussels on Wednesday. “How credible would we be going into the next COP26 meeting, for instance, in Glasgow, if our future agreement allows business to cut corners on environmental and social rights for the sake of gaining market shares?”
The U.K. has said it has no intention of lowering environmental standards, which in several areas are already tougher than EU minimums -- but it doesn’t want to be forced to follow European rules. Earlier this month, Johnson pledged to bring forward the U.K.’s target to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by five years to 2035. He has also sped up plans to phase out the use of coal in energy production.
But the EU says pledges aren’t enough. The bloc wants to see the U.K. commit to what it calls “level playing field” rules to prevent potentially unfair competition -- or to stop it trying to attract companies by cutting environmental standards.
“We have heard Prime Minister Boris Johnson give assurances the U.K. will never engage in a race to the bottom, that it would not seek to undermine European standards, that the U.K. would in fact maintain higher standards than the EU -- and to be frank we are ready to believe this,” Barnier said. “But that means it should not be a problem for the U.K. to agree on a number of ground rules.”
--With assistance from Jessica Shankleman.
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