Ensuring a post-Brexit level playing field

20 May 2019
David Baldock (Senior Fellow, Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP)), Larissa Brunner (Policy Analyst), Pablo Ibáñez Colomo (Chair in Law, London School of Economics; Visiting Professor of Law, College of Europe, Bruges), Emily Lydgate (Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Sussex; Fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory), Marley Morris (Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)), Martin Nesbit (Senior Fellow and Head of Climate and Environmental Governance, Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP)), Jacques Pelkmans (Senior Fellow, Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS)), Vincent Verouden (Director, E.CA Economics; Solvay Fellow, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)) and Fabian Zuleeg (Chief Executive and Chief Economist)

The European Council’s guidelines for the Brexit negotiations, published one month after it received the Article 50 notification from the United Kingdom, state that “any free trade agreement […] must ensure a level playing field, notably in terms of competition and state aid, and in this regard encompass safeguards against unfair competitive advantages through, inter alia, tax, social, environmental and regulatory measures and practices.”

This reflects that the UK's decision to leave the Union has created significant uncertainties and concerns. No longer bound by EU rules after Brexit, the UK could, if it so chooses, lower social, environmental and labour standards to give its businesses an (unfair?) advantage vis-à-vis EU competitors. The EU27’s concern is that the UK could turn into a ‘low tax, low regulation’ economy, which will undermine the European economic model. To prevent this from happening, the EU has pushed for the inclusion of commitments covering several policy areas in the Withdrawal Agreement.

This publication analyses the proposals that are on the table to ensure a level playing field between the UK and the EU after Brexit and assesses in how far the objectives laid out in the European Council guidelines have been met. It does so in relation to different crucial policy areas, including environmental standards, labour and social standards, technical regulations and standards, and state aid control.

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