As the political debate and progress surrounding exiting the EU evolve, below is an update of the most recent developments. This week (commencing 25 February) has seen significant comments from all sides of the debate, including Brussels and across the UK political sphere.
Draft Withdrawal Agreement
On Wednesday 28 February 2018, the EU published its first draft of the Brexit withdrawal treaty. This is the Commission’s interpretation of what it believes, has so far been agreed with the UK. The document includes:
proposed terms of UK departure
citizens’ rights, both UK and EU citizens
ECJ to oversee the Withdrawal Agreement
Three options for the land border between the UK and the EU (Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland). The draft includes the EU’s preferred option for the border issue, this is the UK Government’s least preferred option.
The EU proposes that Northern Ireland remain part of the “customs territory” of the EU to avoid a hard border, ensuring alignment between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic (EU).
The draft withdrawal document has now been provided to UK Government for negotiation.
Problem – stalemate?
PM, Theresa May, has promised the DUP a categorical rejection of the EU’s proposal for the border issue.
The EU has categorically promised Ireland that it will ensure that there is no hard border and that it will stick to the type of protocol put forward in the draft.
UK Government response:
May has said she will not sign any agreement:
that threatens the territorial integrity of the UK or single market of the UK
gives special or separate treatment to Northern Ireland – providing it with a separate customs arrangement with the EU.
sees the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as the final arbiter of the withdrawal agreement.
May met European Council President Donald Tusk at Downing Street on Thursday (1 March), and reiterated her opposition to the draft withdrawal agreement text on Northern Ireland.
Theresa May’s Trade Deal – five tests
On Friday, 2 March, Prime Minister Theresa May, set out her views of what she believes the UK-EU deal will look like and the Governments new approach to the negotiations (five-point test, below). Detailing what she described as ‘hard facts’, the PM said, both sides needed to accept that “neither side can have exactly what we want” but she was confident that an agreement can be found.
Key Statements and themes from the speech:
Government wants “the broadest and deepest possible agreement — covering more sectors and co-operating more fully” than any other trade agreement. Big for financial services.
“We do not want to go back to a hard border in Northern Ireland”. We have said no to any hard infrastructure. “But we can’t do it on our own, it is for all of us to work together”. “Just as it would be unacceptable to go back to a hard border… it would also be unacceptable to break up the United Kingdom’s own single market”. “I am not going to let anything” set back “the integrity of our Union” or the historic work we have achieved
We will not accept a Norway or Canada trade model and access to each other’s markets must be fair. “We are leaving the single market, life is going to be different,”. Access to each other’s markets would be “less than it is now,”
The deal on access to each other’s markets had to be on fair terms – with the need for “binding commitments”. She said the UK wanted the freedom to negotiate trade deals, control of laws and “as frictionless a border as possible” with the EU but said any disputes about the future relationship could not be ruled on by “the court of either party”.
The UK will not embark in a “race to the bottom on standards” and we will be a “champion of free trade.”
The “jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK must end” but we may look to the ECJ for guidance on cases and where we are still part of EU programmes, the ECJ will apply.
The UK will continue with the ICO and GDPR
No deal, is still better than a bad deal
The five tests that the UK Government will be using through the remaining Brexit negotiations and to assess the Brexit deal are:
Implement the decision of the British people [, the referendum result].
Reach an enduring solution
Protect our security and prosperity
Deliver an outcome that is consistent with the kind of country we want to be
Bring our country together and strengthen the precious union of all our people
Northern Ireland and Irish Republic Trade
Recognition from the Prime Minister that her plan to maintain a soft border on the island of Ireland, would mean that the UK could not undercut the EU on the regulation of goods.
‘to avoid a hard border, we also need an agreement on customs’ NOT the customs union ‘that would not be compatible with a meaningful trade policy’
Monday, 26 February 2018, Labour makes an announcement on its Brexit position, based on the UK having “a” customs union with the EU. Labour would: prioritise, jobs, living standards, economy, avoid any return to a hard border in Northern Ireland, ensure UK is not prevented to stop privatisation and outsourcing or prevent employers being able to import cheap agency labour
Government concerns: Labour’s position may lead to an amendment in the UK’s Trade Bill, which could be supported by rebel Tory Remainer MPs
Government response: “[It] would prevent us from signing economy-boosting, job-creating free-trade deals with other countries around the world” (David Davis MP) and “Any form of customs union with the EU after Brexit would be a “complete sell out” for the UK” (Liam Fox MP)
Reality: it is very unlikely that the EU would agree to the type of arrangement that was put forward by Labour. The EU has said that there no room for “cherry picking”