France is pushing the UK to incorporate future European climate change directives into law automatically in return for an ambitious trade deal with the EU.
A large number of member states fear that the UK could enjoy an economic advantage after Brexit if it were able to diverge from European laws and regulations, and they want to use their leverage now to force a commitment from future British governments.
The demand by Emmanuel Macron for the UK to be tied into the EU’s Paris 2030 targets was just one of a series of interventions made by member states during recent meetings with Michel Barnier and his negotiating team.
While a UK withdrawal agreement dealing with citizens’ rights, the £39bn financial settlement and the Irish border have been agreed in principle, the political declaration on the future relationship is yet to be finalised. A seven-page declaration published last week is set to become a much heavier document after member states made a series of interventions in meetings with the European commission for additional text. One EU diplomat said: “It’s a Christmas tree and all the member states are putting their baubles on it.”
Olly Robbins, Downing Street’s Brexit adviser, was in Brussels this weekend for meetings with the commission. On Sunday, ambassadors for the 27 member states are to meet Barnier to discuss the text. Negotiations will have to be completed when ministers for the 27 meet on Monday, with a draft due to be made public on Tuesday.
Downing Street is hopeful that the political declaration can be a “sweetener” to the withdrawal agreement, which has faced a storm of protest in Britain.
On Saturday, Commons leader Andrea Leadsom insisted there was “more to be done” before a special European council meeting on Sunday 25 November to get “the best possible deal for the UK”.
But the extra demands on the UK are likely to be unwelcome to Brexiters, who fear that the government is allowing the UK to be permanently sucked into the EU’s regulatory orbit.
While the UK is a leading light among the EU member states on climate change, the French government is concerned that in a post-Brexit world there will be calls within Britain to undercut the rest of the continent.
The EU has been steadily ratcheting up its targets as part of the 2015 Paris climate change accord, and France wants the UK to be bound to them.
Last week the European parliament adopted energy-savings targets of 32.5% and a renewable energy uplift of 32% by 2030. That will put the bloc on course to cut emissions by 45% from 1990 levels by 2030.
The most politically sensitive demand from the EU is likely, however, to concern the trade-off the bloc wants to make between access for the European fishing fleet to British waters and the wider trade deal.
It is understood that a clause will be included in the political declaration making a link between British companies having access to the European market, and maintaining the “existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources”.
The EU wants a deal on access to UK waters by July 2020, with the UK being tied to making its “best endeavour” to get an agreement, or British exporters will face a loss of access to its market for their own goods.
A number of member states are also championing more positive language in the political declaration on the future trading relationship.
One diplomat from a European country on the western fringe of the EU said: “The relationship as sketched out in the political declaration doesn’t do enough for us. It doesn’t protect the supply lines and we should aim higher, and lock ourselves in to achieve more.”
Andrew Duff, a former MEP, and visiting fellow at the European Policy Centre thinktank, said: “The political declaration needs to do two things – corral the 27 behind a settled course of action leading to an unprecedented association agreement with the UK, and secondly to commit the British prime minister – and if possible her successor – in that same direction.
“It can’t be too loose, therefore, but also can’t be so tightly drafted that it pre-empts the association agreement negotiations. It’s the first chance for the EU 27 to plot the future of Europe without the Brits – an important moment, therefore.”