UK Policy on Zero Tariffs Has Not Changed

On Friday the Lobby met with UK Chief Negotiator David Frost and got very excited about the prospect of a change of direction in FTA talks, leaping on a suggestion that the UK could be willing to accept tariffs with the EU if the EU climbed down from its strict level playing field provision demands. Penny Mordaunt poured cold water on the talk of this being a change in position in Commons today, however, saying that the UK’s policy on zero tariffs and zero quotas has not changed. Unlike the Lobby to get massively carried away with themselves…

Looking back to last month, Frost wrote to Barnier saying that if the EU is justifying its demand for far tighter level playing field provisions than the bloc has in its other FTAs, claiming that the UK must accept tighter rules on the basis of the UK seeking no tariffs, then the UK would be prepared to have discussions around similar tariffs to Canada or Japan.

We have nevertheless suggested that, if it is the mutual commitment to zero tariffs that makes these provisions necessary in your eyes, then we would be willing to discuss a relationship that was based on less than that, as in other FTAs. You have said that you are not willing to have such discussions.

This one line from a longer letter suggests UK flexibility in negotiations, rather than a change in direction. The objective of zero tariffs has not changed, the UK has just signalled, as it has done for a long time, a prioritisation of objectives whereby sovereignty comes before zero tariffs. Ultimately if negotiating objectives changed, that would require a new negotiating mandate – something the EU does not want to have to do. This looks like a lot of media fuss being kicked up over a simple display of the UK pragmatism that has always been there…

Additionally in the Chamber and online, Labour whips and Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Rachel Reeves tried to make a big show of the fact that it was Penny Mordaunt, not Michael Gove fielding questions at the dispatch box today. That line might have more impact if Reeves had actually attended last Thursday’s debate where Gove took questions from the House, instead of sending in her understudy Paul Blomfield…

mdi-account-multiple-outline David Frost Penny Mordaunt Rachel Reeves
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