Throughout the European Council guidelines published today, and which open the way for the start of negotiations on the framework of a future EU-UK relationship, one key theme manifests itself even more vigorously than in the previous European Council Art.50 guidelines (15 December 2017, 29 April 2017): the need for a future EU-UK trade agreement to be based on the maintenance of a level playing field.  What that means has been made clear before and it is repeated here, fleshed out in further detail:

“Given the UK's geographic proximity and economic interdependence with the EU27, the future relationship will only deliver in a mutually satisfactory way if it includes robust guarantees which ensure a level playing field. The aim should be to prevent unfair competitive advantage that the UK could enjoy through undercutting of levels of protection with respect to, inter alia, competition and state aid, tax, social, environment and regulatory measures and practices. This will require a combination of substantive rules aligned with EU and international standards, adequate mechanisms to ensure effective implementation domestically, enforcement and dispute settlement mechanisms in the agreement as well as Union autonomous remedies, that are all commensurate with the depth and breadth of the EU-UK economic connectedness.”

Implicit in this paragraph is the fact that despite the UK Government’s red lines which rule out participation in the single market and the customs union and despite the equally clear EU27 position that there can be no “cherry picking” through participation in the Single Market based on a sector-by-sector approach, a free trade agreement of the (comparatively limited) type which the EU has signed with Canada and South Korea cannot be the outcome of future EU-UK trade negotiations.

The “depth and breadth of the EU-UK economic connectedness”, their “interdependence”, as well as the UK’s “geographic proximity” to the EU dictate that the EU-UK free trade agreement will indeed, be deeper and broader and much more detailed in its requirements on how to maintain that level-playing field.  A free trade deal like no other.  Despite redlines and no cherry picking.