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The European Union and the British Government have been at loggerheads over demands state aid regulation is maintained across the UK once the Brexit transition is concluded. The issue has long been a point of contention between the two parties, with London lamenting the ability of some member states to bypass state aid regulation. The CEO of construction firm Cleveland Bridge International, Chris Droogan, told the Blue Collar Conservatism Conference 2020: “They’re just clever at it in the sense that they would subsidise their energy bills of the steal plants.
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“That’s a way around the rules.
“They’d find creative ways, shall we say, on bending the rules in their favor.”
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen echoed the assessment, noting Brussels had responded to violations of state aid rules with fines but had failed to institute a mechanism to prevent breaches in the first place.
Mr Houchen said: “And also break the rules.
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“I mean, people in Teeside always refer to, ‘look what they did in Italy.’
“They put huge amounts of public funds in and saved the Italian steal plants.
“Now, that’s all being overturned and the EU have fined the Italian Government but they didn’t stop them from doing that.”
He added: “And that goes a long way for people. Sometimes, they want the Government to break the rules to protect the local people and local jobs.”
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Brexit trade deal negotiations have proceeded tentatively because of the EU’s commitment to establishing a so-called level-playing field, demanding the UK continue to follow European regulation on labour rights, the environment and state aid to avoid competition after December 2020.
However the British Government has rejected Brussels’ demands as Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned a level-playing field would defeat the purpose of the Brexit vote by tying the UK to the bloc past the transition period.
And according to the withdrawal agreement struck last year, the UK would have to notify the bloc of any state aid affecting Northern Irish businesses as the deal established the nation would continue to follow European state aid rules to protect the sanctity of the Good Friday Agreement.
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But Brussels appeared to offer Britain an olive branch on state aid spending as the two sides came together once again for the ninth round of Brexit trade talks.
A top EU diplomat insisted there are “ways and means to clarify” the rules to ensure the bloc is able to exercise state aid powers in a targeted way.
They said: “There is common sense. Not every single aid measure where there is certainly no link or possible effect in Northern Ireland would have to be notified.
“That’s clear and we can make that clear.”
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