EU rubbishes Keir Starmer’s big idea to ‘improve’ Brexit

Sir Keir Starmer wants to secure a New Zealand-style veterinary deal with Brussels, but the idea has already been rejected by eurocrats - Leon Neal/Getty Images

Sir Keir Starmer wants to secure a New Zealand-style veterinary deal with Brussels, but the idea has already been rejected by eurocrats – Leon Neal/Getty Images

Sir Keir Starmer’s main proposal to “improve” the Brexit trade deal was rejected by the EU just months ago, The Telegraph can reveal.

The Labour leader has said he would secure a New Zealand-style veterinary deal with Brussels to ease border checks on food.

He has made the planned agreement the cornerstone of his pledge to overhaul the pact Boris Johnson, the former prime minister, struck with the bloc in 2020.

But the proposal looks dead in the water because of opposition from the European Commission, which wants to sign Britain up to following EU rules instead.

Labour ‘learns nothing from last seven years’

Government sources told The Telegraph that the UK negotiating team proposed such a deal in the most recent talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Officials raised the idea in late September as a way of slashing checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea, but it was rejected by eurocrats.

Lord Frost, the former Brexit negotiator, told The Telegraph that the EU had also turned down the same proposal when he was leading trade talks in 2020.

“It’s always been clear that the only kind of food standards or veterinary agreement the EU will do with a near neighbour like the UK is one in which we have to accept EU laws,” he said.

“That was never acceptable to the Boris Johnson government or to the British people who voted to take back control.

“It really is depressing that Labour seems to have learned nothing from the seven years since the referendum and is still trying to sell unnegotiable fantasy proposals to voters.

“If they want to accept EU rules without a say in them, they should at least be honest about it.”

New Zealand and the EU recognise each other’s agricultural standards as being equal, allowing most border checks on food to be scrapped.

Under the arrangement, Wellington retains complete control over its own lawmaking and decides by itself how to fulfil the terms of the deal.

‘Bespoke’ agreement

Sir Keir and his top team have repeatedly trumpeted it as the basis on which they would seek their own “bespoke” agreement with the EU.

He put the proposed pact at the centre of a major speech in July last year, during which he outlined his party’s plan to “make Brexit work”.

“Labour will seek a new veterinary agreement for trade in agri-products between the UK and EU. Something countries like New Zealand and Canada already have in place,” he said.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, reiterated the pledge in March, arguing that a veterinary deal was key to easing trade barriers with Europe.

She said: “To help our farming and fishing industries, we could make a veterinary agreement with the EU to reduce red tape. New Zealand has one with the EU, Britain doesn’t.”

Brussels has argued that it cannot grant the same deal to the UK because doing so would present a big threat to the competitiveness of European farmers.

It argues that Britain is a much larger and closer trading partner, meaning there is a significantly greater economic risk from importing more cheaply produced goods.

Eurocrats have instead repeatedly pushed a Swiss-style deal. Switzerland copies and pastes EU food rules in return for full access to its market.

Maros Sefcovic, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, even proposed in 2021 that the UK could sign up to such an agreement on a “temporary” basis.

But the Government rejected the offer on sovereignty grounds and because it could tie ministers’ hands in trade negotiations with countries like the US and India.

Swiss-style deal ruled out

Sir Keir also ruled out a Swiss-style relationship when asked about it last November, insisting it would “not be the fix some imagine”.

“I went to Switzerland and studied that model and I wouldn’t do a Swiss model,” he added.

The Labour leader has said he would seek an “improved” Brexit deal shortly after entering Downing Street, but has ruled out rejoining the EU.

He has also insisted that he would not take Britain back into the Single Market or Customs Union, but would instead seek mini-deals to ease trade barriers.

Sir Keir also wants an agreement on the recognition of professional qualifications, which would make it easier for workers to move to and from the continent.

Brussels has previously rejected similar proposals from the Government on that front too, arguing that work mobility must be linked to the free movement of people.

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