Rishi Sunak Is Starting a Trade War Between the UK and Brussels


Rishi Sunak’s plan to scrap thousands of EU laws by the end of this year risks triggering a full-scale trade war between the UK and Brussels, senior figures in the European Union have warned.

Letters from leading EU politicians, seen by the Observer, reveal deep concern that the UK is about to lower standards in areas such as environmental protection and workers’ rights – breaching “level playing field” provisions that were at the heart of the post-Brexit trade and cooperation agreement (TCA).

In retaliation, EU leaders in the European Commission, the European parliament and the council of ministers are preparing what they call their own “unilateral rebalancing measures” in secret meetings in Brussels. Sources say these are certain to include the option of imposing tariffs on UK goods entering the EU single market.

The dispute, caused by the Sunak government’s determination to scrap thousands of EU laws in order to demonstrate that he is “getting Brexit done”, now risks souring EU-UK relations just when progress appeared to be being made on the thorny problem of the Northern Ireland protocol.

The prospect of a trade war with the EU comes amid growing evidence that Brexit is inflicting serious damage on the UK economy. Last week the International Money Fund (IMF) said it expected Britain to grow at a slower rate than any other of the G7 leading industrialised countries, including Russia, which is being economically drained by its war with Ukraine.

Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said labour shortages and other “continuing challenges from Brexit” were among the factors causing the UK’s sluggish performance. The most recent post-Brexit poll of polls shows that 58% of UK voters are now in favour of rejoining the EU – the highest level since the 2016 referendum – with just 42% wanting to remain outside the bloc.

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