UK Transport and Brexit News & Views No. 59

Mark’s Brexit Week for Transport

The Custom Union, a Customs Partnership or a Customs arrangement? The Brexit debate returns to one of the main Brexit sticking points, the Customs Union. A trading regime that many Brexiteers believe, once departed from, will allow for the dream of Global Britain to come to fruition. Leaving the Customs Union, one of the preconditions of leaving the EU, has now been put under question following a vote in the Lords and with a non-binding vote due in the Commons later this week. We are two months from a crucial European Council summit at the end of June, one where the fudging on issues such as the Customs Union will see the process proceed no further. I have taken soundings here in Brussels and the message is clear: continued fudging will lead to a fudged Brexit. And that would be terrible for the transport industry that needs long term certainly and stability.

Resolving the Customs Union issue will help further clarify the UK’s future relationship with EU, although this debate begs the question: how red can a red line be? Apparently quite red as No. 10 strongly rebutted the notion of remaining in the Customs Union. Clarity on this issue would certainly be welcome for the transport sector, and if the vote in the Lords is followed up with a defeat in the Commons then the Government’s Customs Union red line will undergo a vigorous stress test. Is this all a sudden showdown between Government and Parliament? No, this is simply an issue that has been fudged for too long and has bubbled back up to the surface.

In the meantime, the transport sector waits for further clarity. A status-quo transition deal was a very good first step, resolving the Customs Union debate would represent an even bigger step with regards to providing certainty to UK transport. As we prepare for the upcoming June summit, you can expect UKTiE to continue making the case for the closest possible UK-EU relationship in the transport sector. This is all the more important given the UK Government’s reluctance to publish a ‘Future Partnership paper’ for transport, but more on that later.

1. ICYMI- DExEU refuses to publish position paper for transport
As you might know, UKTiE sent a letter to DExEU requesting the publication of a position for the transport sector. Alongside the letter, we published our Brexit Position Paper which you can find here. We received an answer from DExEU last week, in a letter from Steve Baker MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Exiting the European Union at DExEU. We are reassured that Steve Baker confirmed “the Government is aware of the concerns of the UK transport sector, such as connectivity and the UK’s future trade and transport arrangements and agreements.” However, we intend to follow-up with DExEU concerning our request for a position paper for the transport sector, something that Steve Baker MP did not confirm would be published. Would you like to help us maintain momentum in Brussels to achieve the best Brexit for business? Then join us!

2. Why Brussels is so relaxed about the Brexit end-game
The BBC’s Katya Adler reports on the distinct laid-back air in Brussels concerning the Brexit end-game. This is linked to several factors, chief among which is the EU getting used to the Brexit drill where “the UK makes a fuss, tells us things are unacceptable – like the financial settlement (the so-called Brexit bill), and like allowing EU citizens the right to stay permanently in the UK, even if they only move there in the transition period after Brexit – but the British Government gives in, in the end. Even if they dress up the fact to make it more acceptable at home”. The article highlights the expectation in Brussels that the UK will be willing to accept “few more hitherto “unacceptables” in the coming months – such as having a role for the European Court of Justice in policing the Brexit agreement and the 21-month transition/implementation period that follows.” This is due to the assumption that the UK Government has its eyes on the bigger prize: leaving the EU. However, will too much be given away by the Government to achieve this objective? The red lines, no matter your opinion of them, were not pulled out of nowhere, they formed the crux of the reason behind leaving the EU. As Brussels waits for the UK side, one question we hear over and over is: how much is the UK willing to accept to achieve Brexit?  

3. Freight Transport Association: Norway-Sweden border not a model for UK post-Brexit
As Politico’s Joshua Posaner reports, James Hookham, Deputy CEO of the Freight Transport Association told the House of Lords’ EU External Affairs Sub-Committee “Norway remains in the [European] Economic Area and that is a status that the British government says will not be the case [for itself]”. Hookham said that due to the smaller cross-border traffic between Norway and Sweden, especially when compared to the Channel traffic, that “In my view they are not reliable analogues for what we need to replicate across the Channel and the Irish Sea”. At peak times, 10.000 trucks pass through Dover at peak times, and there are only 40 road crossings between Sweden and Norway, compared to nearly 300 between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland alone. This issue raises the problem with the UK looking at pre-existing models to employ post-Brexit, the sheer traffic at Dover alone renders most models incomparable and therefore unemployable for the UK.  If you would like to help make the case for continued transport alignment, then please join us.

4. This Week in Brussels- European Commission prepares for a Hard Brexit
The Financial Times reports that the European Commission has drafted 30-40 proposals to amend laws and give special powers to regulators so that the union can deal with a no-deal scenario, either on Brexit day on March 29 2019 or after a transition period. The push comes from the need to both reduce any uncertainty but also to help the EU in its ability to cope with any sudden complications. The article reports that EU diplomats were informed that the measures would cover a wide range of areas, with particular significance for trade quotas, the car industry, transport companies, the bloc’s space programme, financial services and professional qualifications. What are you doing to prepare for the eventuality of a Hard Brexit? Contact us to find out what you can do to help avoid a Hard Brexit. Contact us to find out more about these proposals, how they may affect you and how you can influence them.

5. Brexit legislation caught in parliamentary logjam
The Guardian reports that almost half the bills needed to pave way for leaving EU have yet to be introduced to Parliament. The article highlights that a “parliamentary logjam will mean the government is likely to struggle to pass vital legislation paving the way for leaving the EU before the parliamentary vote on the final Brexit deal”. It has been 130 days since the General Election but the government is still to pass a single piece of Brexit legislation. Parliament will only sit for another 80 days before MPs are expected to vote on the final Brexit deal struck between Theresa May and the European Union, scheduled for October. 

6. UKTiE has also put together the latest timetable for Brexit. We will keep this up to date as the process develops: 

  • 29 March 2017 – A50 triggered.
  • 5 April 2017 – European Parliament adopted Brexit guidelines.
  • 22 May 2017 – Brexit negotiating directives approved by Council.
  • 19 June 2017 –  Negotiations formally began.
  • 23 March 2018– European Council agreed guidelines on the future trading relationship.
  • 28-29 June 2018- European Council summit.
  • 30 September 2018 – Date by which EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, wants to conclude the terms of Britain’s exit from the Union.
  • 30 March 2019 – Britain formally exits the EU, following ratification of Brexit by all other member states and the European Parliament.
  • May 2019 – European Parliament election.
  • 31 December 2020 – End of transition period.
Mark Watts
Co-ordinator
UK transport in Europe (UKTiE)
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