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Mark’s week: 

With no Brexit plan for transport the industry has an opportunity to shape the post Brexit regulatory, trade and tariff regime. But it needs to move fast and engage in the discussions which are underway in Brussels, if it is to avoid being eclipsed by other sectors or competitors. A lot of analysis has appeared over the past few days on the lack of clarity in the May speech.  MineCharles Grant of CER  , and Professor Michael Dougan of Liverpool University.  May is pushing for the UK to remain in six important areas of the EU of potential significance for transport, if we seize the initiative. See my Huffington Post article here. Meanwhile, the European Parliament’s chief negotiator has already signaled in his response here he won’t allow an a la carte deal (see below). So we need to persuade the Parliament what’s good for UK transport is good for EU transport. Meanwhile we await with interest the Supreme Court’s ruling, expected tomorrow at 9h30, on the Westminster Parliament’s role in triggering Article 50.

1. Guy Verhosfadt to PM May: Britain needs to shed its illusions
Following Prime Minister May’s Brexit strategy speech last week, all eyes were closely monitoring reactions amongst the European counterparts taking part in negotiations. Among the most vocal was Guy Verhofstadt, chief EU negotiator from the European Parliament. In an article published in the Guardian, Verhofstadt makes it clear that although open negotiations with the UK are important in key areas of mutual concern, May’s plan of opting in the European project when it suits the interests of the UK is out of the question. In his terms, although the EU remains committed to a fair deal, the days of ‘Europe a la carte’ are over and Britain is overdue in acknowledging it. For the area of transport, this confirms the fact that there will be no special deals and no backdoor arrangements. Although Verhofstadt did commit to giving Northern Ireland priority in discussions, it is essential that UKTiE arranges a meeting with Verhofstadt as the start of negotiations is rapidly approaching.
2. Australia ready to conclude a trade deal with the UK – in exchange for relaxed immigration rules
It would appear that Theresa May’s claims that there are countries eager to strike a new trade deal with the UK following its departure from the EU were not as far fetched as initially expected. The weight of the UK in negotiations however has indeed changed. Although very eager to negotiate a new agreement between the two countries, Alexander Downer – Australia’s high commissioner for the UK – said his country requires better access for workers before reaching a post Brexit deal. In other words – a quid pro quo in one of the most sensitive areas for the UK (and a key argument in the Brexit camp): reducing immigration. But Australia is not the only country putting forward pricey bargaining chips – India has recently echoed the same relaxed immigration demands for its citizens if the UK wants a lasting trade partnership outside the EU.
3. Prime Minister May to meet ‘America first, American first’ President Trump on Friday
Following last week’s inauguration, PM May is set to travel to the United States this week to meet with President Trump. The British PM will thus be the first leader to meet the new President of its long standing US partner, and has her eyes on a big prize – a future trade agreement between the US and the UK that would take effect once Britain leaves the EU. This agreement, sources claim, would allow May to follow on her plans for a hard Brexit. The concern however lies with the actual benefits that such an agreement would bring to the UK as the US seems to hold all the aces: a desperate Britain in need of a trade deal, little viable alternatives that would allow May to keep her promise to cap immigration levels, and a patriotic new US president dead set on putting America and its people and businesses first in any circumstances. It remains to be seen how many benefits such an agreement would bring to Global Britain.
4. German businesses unimpressed by Brexiteers
Recent days have seen key figures from the UK Brexit camp travel to Berlin to meet with German business leaders on a mission to convince them to lobby Chancellor Merkel to give Britain a good deal in Brexit negotiations. The results so far are nowhere near those expected by Brexit supporters, and are exactly as anticipated by those on the continent, whose accommodating nature to Britain’s traditionally cherry-picking days in the EU appears to have disappeared. Instead Brexiteers discovered a very united front supporting Merkel’s tough-love approach, even if faced with short-term loss to their business. Unlike opinions in the British media, German business leaders (such as car manufacturers) are determined to maintain the integrity of the single market to the detriment of British customers. It is becoming more evident that the importance of the UK within the EU in such troubled and challenging times is no longer the centre issue – politicians and businesses alike are coming together in acknowledging that there is much more at stake here than the mutual beneficial trade agreements – but rather the risk of dismantling the entire European project.

Mark Watts
UK transport in Europe (UKTiE)

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