Road to Brexit #2: October 2017

(Title Image: Cambridge University)

Irish Parliament Committee backs starting Irish reunification process

One thing we haven’t heard too much of during this Brexit process is the view from other EU member states. Back in August, the Oireachtas joint committee on the Good Friday Agreement published its report on Brexit negotiations (pdf).

The Good Friday Agreement is a key negotiation point as it would affect the only land border between the UK and EU. The report recommends to the Irish Government that:

  • Northern Ireland should have “special status” with the whole island of Ireland.
  • Passport controls should be on the same basis as 1939-1952 when the border was in the Irish Sea, not the boundary of Northern Ireland.
  • A new forum should be established to “set a pathway towards achieving the peaceful reunification of Ireland”.
  • Further work should take place on the implication of reunification, utilising expertise from Germany due to their reunification experiences in 1990.

The author of the report concluded that a reunification referendum was “an inevitability”, while the Good Friday Agreement contains a clause that a referendum (known as a “Border Poll”) should be held if there’s a demand for one.

In a separate paper published on August 16th, the Irish Government’s Brexit position demanded no border posts or customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Hard Brexit “to cost Welsh economy £1.1billion”

The pro-Remain Wales for Europe group published a gloomy projection for the post-Brexit Welsh economy in August.

The research – undertaken by the London School of Economics – estimates that if there’s no deal with the EU in 2019, the Welsh economy will lose £1.1billion. A “soft Brexit” – where the UK retains a trading relationship with the EU, like membership of the single market, would cost Wales just £672million.

The figures were broken down by each local authority, with Cardiff expected to take the hardest hit (-£117-225million), closely followed by the Vale of Glamorgan (-£26-47million) and the likes of Bridgend, Newport, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Denbighshire.

….others expect “£135billion boost” to UK economy

A report authored by Cardiff University’s Prof. Patrick Minford counter-argues that if the UK unilaterally dropped all tariffs it would boost the UK economy by £80billion. If this is accompanied by a mass deregulation of the economy it could result in at least a further £40billion boost.

Although Prof. Minford still argues that the ideal solution is a free trade deal with the EU, by eliminating all trade barriers from the outset, the prospect of the UK market being flooded with cheap imports would force the EU into agreeing a favourable free trade agreement.

I’ll leave you to make your own minds up as to whether the figures are optimistic or not, but it goes without saying that such a move would make it much harder for UK companies and farmers to export and could lead to heavy job losses in UK manufacturing if barriers against increased competition from abroad were removed. Three guesses as to which parts of the UK those jobs would be lost.

UK Government seeks two year “transition period”

On August 15th, UK Brexit Secretary, David Davis, revealed that he was seeking a two year “transition period” between 2020-2022 which would see the UK remain in the EU customs union before a permanent Brexit deal is finalised. This was later confirmed in a speech by the Prime Minister on September 22nd.

It’s long been suggested that such a transition deal would be sought as a means to reduce anxiety amongst the business community that changes could be brought in too quickly for them to adapt to. A transition deal would, at least, see tariff-free trade continue between the UK and EU until a formal free trade agreement is reached before the next scheduled UK General Election in 2022.

This was backed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Trade Secretary – Phil Hammond and Liam Fox respectively, both of whom on separate sides of the Brexit debate – who penned a letter to the Sunday Telegraph saying that while both agreed a transition deal was necessary, it shouldn’t roll back or indefinitely delay the Brexit process itself.

UK Government outlines four policy positions

Ahead of the third round of Brexit negotiations on August 31st, the UK Government published four policy position papers, in which they state:

  • Goods being traded in the single market prior to Brexit in 2019 should continue to be traded freely after Brexit without additional requirements or restrictions. Trade authorisations, certificates etc. should continue to be valid after Brexit.
  • Current confidentiality arrangements – where EU officials/staff can’t disclose certain information – should be maintained by both the UK and EU.
  • There should be a reciprocal “close and comprehensive” framework of co-operation between the UK and EU on civil justice matters – which mirrors the existing EU system.
  • The jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the UK should end, meaning the ECJ would no longer be able to strike-down UK laws. However, current EU laws, rights and ECJ rulings will be enshrined in UK law. A joint committee/arbitration system should also be established for dispute resolution.


Leaks reveal impasse in EU-UK positions on immigration

A number of position papers from the EU and UK sites were leaked to The Guardian in September, revealing the positions of the two negotiating parties may be some way apart, particularly on border controls, the Irish border and immigration.

The leaked papers suggest a crackdown on low-skilled migration from the EU by reducing their opportunities of settling in the UK long-term (like limiting migration to the UK for families of workers) and introducing preference for British workers.

The Welsh Government later said they should have a say in migration issues and have suggested a Wales-specific quota for EU migrants, but that’s unlikely to hold much truck in Whitehall as immigration policy is wholly non-devolved.

Meanwhile, the EU is said to want Northern Ireland to have a “separate” Brexit deal from the rest of the UK to prevent the creation of a hard border with the Republic (calling back to what was written earlier). This is unlikely to be accepted by the UK Government.

Completely predictable row over post-Brexit powers

The UK Government’s “Brexit Bill” passed its first major hurdle on 11th September after clearing the second reading stage. MPs will now have a chance to pass amendments in the next stage.

There has been no change to the situation with regard devolved powers. Many areas that are currently overseen by the European Union and EU Law are completely devolved – like agriculture. However, as things stand the Bill means the UK Government will keep these powers when the devolved administrations – including the Welsh Government – believe these powers should, by rights, be handed to them.

Former Wales Secretary, David Jones MP (Con, Clwyd West) – who’s not exactly a friend of devolution – later argued there was a case for these powers to be retained by Westminster to ensure pan-UK standards and rules are maintained. The Welsh & Scottish governments have, subsequently, threatened to advise against their respective parliaments giving permission for the Brexit Bill when it comes to them.

“No talks yet” on post-Brexit trade

Following the fifth round of talks on October 12th, Michel Barnier said he could not recommend to the European Council (made up of heads of government of each EU member state) that talks begin on the trading relationship between the UK and EU after Brexit.

The big sticking point is the “divorce bill” – with the UK Government refusing to say precisely how much it will be willing to pay to meet its financial commitments.

While there’s still more work to be done, progress was said to have been on the issues of Ireland and EU citizens rights in the UK after Brexit.