Some comments on the Brexit White Paper

The following is a summary of the Government’s Brexit White Paper – together with my comments in red:

Great repeal bill and control of UK laws

  • “We will bring forward a White Paper on the Great Repeal Bill that provides more detail about our approach.” The first promise of this white paper is to promise another white paper, avoiding key issues for now.
  • “Wherever practical and appropriate, the same rules and laws will apply on the day after we leave the EU as they did before.” The words “wherever practical and appropriate” are a new addition to the government’s strategy; they are finally realising it isn’t so simple. EU legislation often provides for implementing measures and further adaptation by the EU, without Britain being involved anymore. The white paper says that the government will be empowered to change these laws “to address deficiencies” without recourse to Parliamentary legislation. Presumably, this is to mirror changes made by the EU despite constant insistence for British sovereignty on the matter. Otherwise, this will allow the government to stealthily remove laws protecting workers, consumers and the environment.
  • “We will bring an end to the jurisdiction of the CJEU in the UK. We will of course continue to honour our international commitments and follow international law….We recognise that ensuring a fair and equitable implementation of our future relationship with the EU requires provision for dispute resolution.” The latter being the “ECJ by any other name”. Virtually all trade agreements have a dispute settlement body. Commonly agreed rules are interpreted by a common court or other common mechanism, not unilaterally.

The union and Ireland

  • “We have ensured since the referendum that the devolved administrations are fully engaged in our preparations to leave the EU.” But the government does not go into specifics about how they will engage over the complex issues specific to the different devolved administrations, who feel they are being ignored.
  • “As the UK leaves the EU, the unique relationships that the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands and the Overseas Territories have with the EU will also change.” Which is unfortunate for Gibraltar, as it voted 96% to remain.
  • “The UK and Irish economies are deeply integrated, through trade and cross-border investments, as well as through the free flow of goods, utilities, services and people…When the UK leaves the EU we aim to have as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland, so that we can continue to see the trade and everyday movements we have seen up to now.” But by creating a customs border and other hindrances, the words “as possible” become the operative ones. The consequences of a “hard” customs border between the North and the Republic are immense and are not addressed in the white paper, which was supposed to spell out all the issues that need consideration and choices.  See further:

Immigration and reciprocal citizens’ rights

  • “We are also engaging closely with EU Member States, businesses and other organisations to ensure that we have a thorough understanding of issues concerning the status of EU nationals in the UK.” …most of whom were not allowed to vote in the referendum.
  • “We are considering very carefully the options that are open to us to gain control of the numbers of people coming to the UK from the EU. As part of that, it is important that we understand the impacts on the different sectors of the economy and the labour market.” Unfortunately, the government didn’t think to do this before the referendum and explore what is possible under existing rules; most migrants in Britain have come from outside the EU, entirely under British rules and nothing to do with EU. By contrast, EU movement is a reciprocal right, with nearly 2 million Brits in other EU countries. EU citizens here pay their way (paying one third more in taxes than they take in benefits and services).
  • There may be a phased process of implementation to prepare for the new arrangements [of immigration rules]. This is the first time the government has made such a commitment, which is welcome for businesses which will need to have time to adapt.
  • “The Government has provided further assurances by confirming that existing EU students and those starting courses in 2016-17 and 2017-18 will continue to be eligible for student loans and home fee status for the duration of their courses.” But there is no detail of potential increases in fees for students, the impact this could have on university finances, or whether students will be welcome after we actually leave.
  • “We will ensure the continued protection of workers’ rights. This will give certainty and continuity to employees and employers alike, creating stability in which the UK can grow and thrive.” But there is nothing to stop future governments slashing long established workers rights to become ‘more competitive’ in the future.

EU trade, single market, customs union and budget

  • “The Government will prioritise securing the freest and most frictionless trade possible in goods and services between the UK and the EU. We will not be seeking membership of the Single Market, but will pursue instead a new strategic partnership with the EU, including an ambitious and comprehensive Free Trade Agreement and a new customs agreement.” We won’t be able to get the trade deal to rival that we have already got. Outside the single market can never be as good as inside it from a trade perspective.
  • “This should include a new customs agreement with the EU, which will help to support our aim of trade with the EU that is as frictionless as possible” The government wants to come out of the customs union and create a new customs agreement. However, there still seems to be no comprehension of the magnitude of the problems that arise if we drop out of the customs union – not just for our trade with the EU (by far the biggest destination of our exports) but for our trade with the rest of the world, where we would drop out of favourable agreements we have via the EU with over fifty countries and where -for all countries- we would have to fall back on unfavourable WTO rules. See a detailed analysis here:
  • “We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries.” Given that the EU has trade deals with over 50 other countries, it will be quite hard not to replicate something already enjoyed.
  • “The UK’s financial services sector is a hub for money, trading and investment from all over the world and is one of only two global, full service financial centres – and the only one in Europe. In 2016 the Global Financial Centres Index once again ranked London as the number one financial centre. Citizens, businesses and public sector bodies across the continent rely on the City to access the services that they need.” Does the government really believe that our negotiating partners in Europe will be begging them for a deal on their  terms, rather than trying to entice City businesses and banks to major cities within the Eurozone such as Frankfurt, Dublin or Paris? This is a triumph of wishful thinking!
  • “When we invoke Article 50, we will be leaving Euratom as well as the EU…our precise relationship with Euratom, and the means by which we cooperate on nuclear matters, will be a matter for the negotiations … As part of exit negotiations the Government will discuss with the EU and Member States our future status and arrangements with regard to these agencies.” Yet it doesn’t spell out whether the government intends to try to stay in any of these agencies or make alternative arrangements (such as duplicate UK agencies). It doesn’t cost these options. And there is no convincing explanation of why we should leave Euratom, a separate legal entity from the EU. See:
  • “As we will no longer be members of the Single Market, we will not be required to make vast contributions to the EU budget” Which means, in all those areas where spending at European level saves money at national level by pooling resources and avoiding duplication, we lose out.

The government makes no mention of what might replace the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy for British farmers and fishers. Vital choices need to be made for these sectors, and the government has yet to spell them out and cost them.

Trade with other countries; research

  • “We will be champions of free trade driving forward liberalisation bilaterally, as well as in wider groupings, and we will continue to support the international rules based system.” But other countries will need to know what our trade deal with Europe is before they can decide what trade deal they can do with us. Furthermore, our future trade relationship with Europe might determine what trade agreements we have elsewhere– if we manage to negotiate tariff-free access to the single market and a new customs agreement (which is unlikely), the EU is unlikely to let third countries use us as a ‘back door’ to the single market.
  • “As the Secretary of State for International Trade informed Parliament on 5 December 2016, work is already underway on [establishing schedules for trade in goods and services for the WTO]” This a nightmare scenario – see my detailed analysis here:
  • “We will seek agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research, and technology initiatives” We need to know how this will happen. British partners are already being dropped in EU projects because of worry over access to funding, we’re losing some of our most talented researchers to the EU, and the government has not set out a long term financial plan for investment in science and technology when Horizon 2020 expires.

Some further thoughts here:

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