The nature of the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union will have to be resolved in the coming weeks. The UK Government’s proposal is for an economic partnership which includes:
- A free trade area for goods (including agricultural products) between the UK and EU which would “protect the uniquely integrated supply chains and ‘just-in-time processes’ that have developed across the EU..and the jobs and livelihoods dependent on them.” This would also mean that that the commitment to avoid a ‘hard’ border between Northern Ireland and Ireland would be met.
- A common rule book (including standards for quality and safety) “covering only those rules necessary to provide frictionless trade at the border with the EU, with all those rules legislated for by Parliament or the devolved legislatures.”
- Participation in EU agencies which are vital for goods in highly regulated sectors such as medicines, aviation and chemicals;
- The phased introduction of a new Facilitated Customs Arrangement, removing the need for customs checks and controls between the UK and EU;
- New arrangements on services and the digital economy to provide regulatory freedom for the UK services industry – recognising that the UK and EU will not have the current access to each other’s markets.
On ‘freedom of movement’, the UK has long had one the most open arrangements in the EU. That would come to an end. The proposal is for a new framework which ‘respects the UK’s control of its borders’ while enabling UK and EU citizens to continue to travel to each other’s countries, and businesses and professionals to provide services.
The Government also offers an unconditional commitment to the maintenance of Europe’s security through a security partnership. This would include participation in key agencies such as Europol on policing.
In other areas, the Government proposes cooperation in the protection of personal data, science and innovation, culture and education, defence and space. The Government is also clear that we would be able to make independent trade deals.
I believe that the Government’s proposals provide a fair basis for an agreement which implements the result of the referendum to leave the EU and its structures, while ensuring that trade, security cooperation, travel and much else that is of benefit to the UK reasonably smoothly. I would however like to see improvements in the proposals for services and the digital economy which is an area in which the UK excels.
Serious negotiations are now taking place to try and reach agreement on this future relationship as well as the withdrawal arrangements on citizens’ rights and payments. They have to be concluded by October or (at the very latest) November 2018 before being put to the UK and European Parliaments for ratification.
There has been talk of leaving the EU next March without an agreement. That is possible and preparations are being made insofar as they can be. However I believe that would result in serious damage to the economies (and hence jobs) in both the UK and the EU and a deterioration in relationships which would have long-term consequences. Both the EU and the UK must work to avoid that.