The UK will set out its negotiating aims for trade talks with the EU by early February and will not diverge from Brussels’ rules for the sake of it, Steve Barclay has said.
The Brexit secretary, whose job will become defunct when the UK leaves the EU on 31 January, set a more moderate tone than some of his colleagues who insist the UK will be looking for no alignment with the EU after Brexit.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he said the broad aims for trade talks would be set out within the next month, with Boris Johnson expected to make a speech revealing his approach.
Barclay said: “The key issue is that we will have control of our rules, we will not be a rule-taker, we will not diverge for the sake of diverging, we start from a position of alignment. But the key opportunity is that we will be able to set our standards, high standards, on workers’ rights, on the environment, on state aid as part of that trade policy.”
He argued the UK and the EU would be able to negotiate a zero-tariff and zero-quota deal even while Britain was insisting on some degree of regulatory divergence. “We’re coming out of the single market, we’re coming out of the customs union. We’re not just going to diverge just for the sake of it – we need to look at where the opportunities are.
“But it is true that we are going to have control of our approach to regulation and that’s the very essence of Brexit: that we can do things differently, particularly where, for example, there is innovation, there is new technologies, there’s things where we want to move quickly. Brexit at its very core is that we will have control of our laws, our regulation and that is why we can’t be a rule-taker. We need to have that opportunity.”
Earlier, Priti Patel sounded a different note as she focused on divergence. The home secretary told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “There is no disagreement in government at all: we are clear – we are leaving.
“In terms of divergence, we are not having alignment. We will be diverging. We want to take control of our laws, money and our borders. And to do that we will not be rule-takers – we will be setting our own laws and that is a fundamental feature of leaving the European Union.”
Last week Sajid Javid alarmed businesses by saying in an FT interview that there would not be alignment with the EU after Brexit. The chancellor insisted firms must adjust to new regulations. However, he toned down his comments later in the week to say there would only be divergence where it made sense to do so.