LONDON — The European Union has warned the U.K. that it can have access to its market of 450 million consumers as part of a wide-ranging trade deal but only if it abides by E.U. standards on areas including state aid, social legislation and environmental protections.
Michel Barnier, the E.U.’s chief negotiator, made the comments as the two sides begin to set out their opening negotiating positions this week, three days after the U.K. formally left the union
The British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC Sunday that “we will not be aligning with E.U. rules, that’s not on the negotiating table.”
The disagreement is a further sign that this second phase of Brexit is set to be the biggest showdown yet in the terms of the U.K-E.U. relationship.
Calling Brexit a somber and emotional moment, Barnier said in Brussels on Monday that the talks were an opportunity for a new relationship, as he released the 27-member bloc’s draft negotiating guidelines.
Talks won’t start until next month, after the guidelines have been formally approved by the E.U. member states.
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“When you’re not a member of the European Union then your position is different and less favorable,” said Barnier on Monday.
“This has never been done and it’s a real challenge to come up with a trade agreement like the ones we have with Canada, or South Korea or Japan,” he added later in the press conference.
The U.K.’s divorce from the E.U. became official on Friday night at 11 p.m., three and a half years after the nation voted to leave the bloc in a referendum on June 23, 2016. Despite its official departure, the U.K. will still be subject to all E.U. laws and regulations until at least the end of 2020 in a transition period that could be extended by up to two years.
During that time, the U.K. will need to secure an agreement on its future relationship with the E.U., including the finer details of trade, security and data sharing — a task that most experts and the E.U. itself says will be nearly impossible to complete in full with such a short time frame.
Later on Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to say that his country wants a trade deal with the E.U., but not if that means fully following its rules.
“There is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting E.U. rules… any more than the E.U. should be obliged to accept U.K. rules,” he will say in a speech on Monday, according to remarks released in advance by his press office.
As the U.K. officially left, the E.U. had warm words of farewell, but it has repeatedly made it clear that it would look after the interests of its member nations.
“We are proud of everything the E.U. and U.K. have achieved together,” said a video about Brexit that Barnier posted on Twitter on Saturday. “But our loyalty lies foremost with E.U. citizens.”
E.U. leaders have repeatedly warned that the deadline of 31 Dec. 2020 makes the timetable too tight to strike a full trade deal.
Free-trade agreements typically take years. The E.U.-Canada deal that the British government cites as a potential model for its future framework took seven years to negotiate.
If there is no deal by the end of 2020, and the U.K. refuses to extend the negotiating period, Britain faces an abrupt, disruptive economic break from the bloc — with tariffs and other obstacles to trade imposed immediately between the U.K. and the EU.
That prospect alarms many businesses, especially in sectors such as the auto industry, which depend on the easy flow of parts across borders.
Associated Press contributed.