The Daily Telegraph - Saturday

EU rejects Labour plan to rewrite Brexit deal

- By Nick Gutteridge Daily Telegraph The

Lord Frost says Starmer’s proposal for New Zealandsty­le veterinary deal shows ‘party has learned nothing’

SIR KEIR STARMER’S main proposal to improve the Brexit trade deal was rejected by the EU months ago,

can disclose.

The Labour leader has said he would secure a New Zealand-style veterinary deal with Brussels to ease border checks on food. He has made the planned agreement the cornerston­e of his pledge to overhaul the pact Boris Johnson struck with the bloc in 2020.

But the proposal looks dead in the water because the EU wants Britain to sign up to following its rules instead.

Government sources said that the UK negotiatin­g team proposed such a deal in the most recent talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Officials raised the idea in late September as a way of slashing checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea, but it was rejected by EU officials.

Lord Frost, the former Brexit negotiator, said that the EU had also turned down the same proposal when he was leading trade talks in 2020. “It’s always been clear that the only kind of food standards or veterinary agreement the EU will do with a near neighbour like the UK is one in which we have to accept EU laws,” he said. “That was never acceptable to the Boris Johnson Government or to the British people who voted to take back control.

“It really is depressing that Labour seems to have learned nothing from the seven years since the referendum and is still trying to sell unnegotiab­le fantasy proposals to voters. If they want to accept EU rules without a say in them, they should at least be honest about it.”

New Zealand and the EU recognise each other’s agricultur­al standards as being equal, allowing most border checks on food to be scrapped. Under the arrangemen­t Wellington retains complete control over its own lawmaking and decides by itself how to fulfil the terms of the deal.

Sir Keir and his team have repeatedly trumpeted it as the basis on which they would seek to their own “bespoke” agreement with the EU.

He put the proposed pact at the centre of speech in July last year, during which he outlined his party’s plan to “make Brexit work”.

“Labour will seek a new veterinary agreement for trade in agri-products between the UK and EU. Something countries like New Zealand and Canada already have in place,” he said.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, reiterated the pledge in March, arguing that a veterinary deal was key to easing trade barriers with Europe.

She said: “To help our farming and fishing industries, we could make a veterinary agreement with the EU to reduce red tape. New Zealand has one with the EU, Britain doesn’t.”

Brussels has argued that it cannot grant the same deal to the UK because doing so would present a big threat to the competitiv­eness of European farmers.

It argues that Britain is a much larger and closer trading partner, meaning there is a significan­tly greater economic risk from importing more cheaply produced goods. Brussels officials have instead repeatedly pushed a Swiss-style deal. Switzerlan­d copies and pastes EU food rules in return for full access to its market.

Maros Sefcovic, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, even proposed in 2021 that the UK could sign up to such an agreement on a “temporary” basis.

But the Government rejected the offer on sovereignt­y grounds and because it could tie ministers’ hands in trade negotiatio­ns with countries like the US and India.

Sir Keir also ruled out a Swiss-style relationsh­ip when asked about it last November, insisting it would “not be the fix some imagine”.

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