PM Theresa May delivered her long awaited Brexit speech, presenting her Government’s 12 objectives for the negotiations ahead. As previewed in our News and Views on Monday 16 January, the UK will indeed leave the Single Market, the Customs Union and just about everything else.

What interests us is how this will impact the transport sector. In a nutshell, all existing provisions, memberships and agreements are effectively off the table. Controls on immigration may limit access to workers from the EU.

Almost all the existing relationships, such as the Common European Aviation Area, European Aviation Safety Authority, the European Union Agency for Railways, the Single European Sky, the European Maritime Safety Agency, access to markets and cabotage for hauliers, mutual recognition including driver licensing, EU air service agreements with third countries, and participation in EU research programmes will cease to apply. May said ‘we do not seek to hold on to bits of membership when we leave.’

So that’s potentially a very hard Brexit for transport. However, as previewed by us on Monday, the UK will seek a ‘trade deal plus’ relationship and will aim to hold on to bits of membership in at least six important areas of particular relevance to transport. These would significantly soften the Brexit:

• First, a ‘new partnership’ with the EU built around a Free Trade Agreement, that may include elements of relevance to transport because it may encompass ‘elements of current Single Market arrangements in certain areas.’ Here May gives the example of automobiles and financial services
• Second, ‘a customs agreement with the EU’ will the aim to facilitate tariff-free trade as frictionless as possible
• Third, an agreement on ‘science, research and technology’ initiatives
• Fourth, appropriate contributions into the EU budget in order to participate in specific European programmes
• Fifth, a phased process of implementation, which might include ‘customs systems’
• Sixth, maintaining ‘The Common Travel Area with Ireland’

But there was little mention of transport per se, while there was specific mention of other key sectors of the economy. Given it is not clear whether any aspect of transport will indeed be included in the ‘Free Trade Agreement’, the ‘phased process of implementation’, the ’new partnership’, any ‘science, research and technology initiatives’ or ‘specific European programmes’, we simply don’t know what the Brexit plan for transport is.

And that’s because transport is not yet a priority. We need to make it a priority.

We need to make the case and persuade the UK and EU to support sensible arrangements for transport. May’s proposals will require the unanimous support of all EU Member States, National Parliaments and in some cases Regional Parliaments. Given the desire by the UK to control immigration and reach agreements on much of this in two years, this will not be easy. The reaction in Brussels and Berlin has been brutal and swift. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief negotiator, said Britain has chosen a ‘hard Brexit’ and whilst he welcomed the ‘clarity’ he underlined that ‘the days of UK cherry-picking and Europe a la carte are over’, giving a clear signal he will oppose any deal that allows the UK to hold on to bits of membership when it leaves. The EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said an ‘agreement on orderly exit is prerequisite for future partnership’, signalling the 2 year timeframe outlined by May is unrealistic. In Berlin some leading commentators welcomed the ‘clarity’ of the speech, but described it as ‘provocative’ and ‘blind to reality’. The German Foreign Ministry also welcomed the clarity, but signalled the priority was protecting the EU 27 and the ‘integrity’ of the Single Market, in other words no sectoral deals.

So we have a huge challenge ahead. UKTiE looks forward to working with you to provide the best platform to ensure transport is given the priority it deserves, that our objectives are heard and heeded by those drawing up the future relationship and the phased process of implementation, so as to deliver the best possible Brexit for UK transport.

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