The EU will demand the UK maintains a ban on chlorinated chicken as the price for a trade agreement with Brussels, in a move that protects European meat exports and creates an obstacle to a deal with Donald Trump.
On the recommendation of France, a clause has been inserted into the EU’s negotiating mandate to insist that both sides maintain “health and product sanitary quality in the food and agriculture sector”, according to a copy leaked to the Guardian.
The paragraph, in a newly entitled section of the document for the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, called “Environment and health” provides a catch-all insurance for the EU that certain methods of food production – from the use of pesticides, endocrine disrupters or chlorine washes for poultry – will not be used in the UK.
The leaked agreement, obtained by the Guardian, states “the envisaged agreement should uphold common high standards, and corresponding high standards over time with [EU] standards as a reference point”.
At the weekend, George Eustice, the new UK environment secretary, refused to guarantee that the government would not allow the importation of chlorine-washed chicken as part of a trade deal with the US.
Eustice’s stance has caused concern in the UK where the National Farmers’ Union called for other countries to trade with Britain “on our terms”. The EU also fears that current suppliers of meat to the UK could be undercut by US imports.
It is understood that France’s proposal for a change to the negotiating mandate was wholeheartedly backed by other member states.
It was agreed last Friday while other “level playing field” provisions only received unanimous support on Monday from EU ambassadors.
EU ministers will sign off on the 46-page negotiating mandate for Barnier on Tuesday before the start of negotiations next week.
More generally, a debate had been ongoing between the French government, which wanted to tie the UK to the developing EU rulebook on environmental, social and workers’ standards, and other member states who believed it would be a demand too far.
Following agreement by ambassadors, the EU will now demand the right to punish Britain if the government fails to shadow the Brussels rulebook in the future but they will not insist on “dynamic alignment” across the board.
The compromise involves Brussels retaining the right to apply tariffs or other sanctions if any divergence between the two sides over time led to “disruptions of the equal condition of competition”, with EU law being the “reference point”.
“It is about equality of outcomes,” one senior EU source said.
The EU also wants to establish a “governing body” to oversee a deal that “should be empowered to modify the level playing field commitments in order to include additional areas or to lay down higher standards over time”.
France was alone in holding out for guarantees to go beyond mere “non-regression” from the current shared regulations.
The bloc will also demand that the British government apply EU state aid rules in their entirety as they evolve – the one instance where Brussels is demanding complete alignment over time. The rules limit subsidies that can be given to industry.
Barnier has admitted that such a policy is a “red rag” to the UK.
The hardening of the EU position came as Boris Johnson was warned that the French government would not be “blackmailed” into a trade deal that risk its long-term economic interests.
The prime minister’s decision to rule out an extension of the transition period after 31 December 2020 has put pressure on both parties to work swiftly on a deal or face huge extra costs on trade when the UK leaves the single market and customs union.
But, speaking before a meeting of EU ministers, France’s EU affairs minister, Amélie de Montchalin, used a TV interview to say her country would not “sacrifice” the future of French industry, farming and fisheries to secure a swift deal.
“Just because Boris Johnson wants an agreement at all costs on 12/31 does not mean that we will sign a bad agreement for the French under the pressure of blackmail or time pressure,” De Montchalin later tweeted.
Johnson has said he will not take up the option of extending the transition period for “up to one or two years”, as envisaged in the withdrawal agreement. He has said he will accept tariffs and quotas on goods if a deal is not agreed in time.
The UK is likely to publish its plans on Thursday after the EU’s adoption of its negotiating mandate for the European commission.
The government has so far rejected any deal that involves alignment on policy or Britain remaining under the jurisdiction of the European court of justice, saying that a Canada-style trade deal, with looser provisions on ensuring a competitive level playing field, is the most appropriate option.