Mark’s Brexit Week for Transport

There seems to be a lot happening on the UK political scene at the moment that Brexit has almost taken a back-seat this past week. However, the Brexit negotiations are never far off as Michel Barnier, following in the footsteps of David Davis, is on a trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland to discuss possible solutions to the Irish border issue and, of course, there are major votes in the UK Parliament. There is a palpable tension in the air as workable solutions are being discarded by either side despite the upcoming June European Council summit. This will be a make or break moment in the Brexit negotiations, and the mood here in Brussels is one of frustration as we seem to be re-entering the same situation we were in at the end of Phase 1, when the Irish border issue threatened to derail the Brexit negotiations.

Unfortunately, as has been the case since the referendum, high-level Brexit issues have taken up most of the coverage at the expense of important but more detailed issues such as the future transport relationship between the UK and the EU. We are continuing our push to make transport more relevant, and we are always met with great support when we meet with people here in Brussels. The issue then is not that transport is low on the agenda but that we need to find a way to cut through all the noise and make the case for the future transport relationship that we would like to see.

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 paper for the transport sector. Alongside the letter, we published our own Brexit Position Paper which you can find here. We received an answer from DExEU, 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 is clearly reluctant to publish. Would you like to help us secure a Brexit position paper for transport from the UK government?  Then join us!

2. Port of Rotterdam Brexit Preparation
The Guardian reports that officials at the port of Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe, are stalling on investments in Brexit infrastructure amid renewed hope that Theresa May will make a U-turn after the local elections on the UK leaving the customs union. Meanwhile, EU officials, have warned that global trade rules will stand in the way of a UK “fudge” on the customs union issue. While fearful that Brexit paperwork at the port could lead to five-mile queues of trucks on its doorstep, Mark Dijk, the port’s head of external affairs, said the level of the investment required by the the port and its ferry companies meant certainty was needed. Dijk said there were concerns that the necessary land would not be available around at least one of the four ferry terminals servicing the UK, although he suggested Dover faced greater issues. “I saw in the UK they have larger problems with the infrastructure,” he said. “The port of Dover, which has got no space to grow, and other ports are pleading for public investment to facilitate this growth.” The Port of Rotterdam expects that local elections this week will reignite the conversation around remaining in the Customs Union. We will be reporting next week on what implications the local election results will have for transport and Brexit.

3. Chris Grayling and Steve Baker discuss priorities post-Brexit with aviation industry leaders
The Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling and Steve Baker, Minister for Exiting the European Union,  met with representatives from the aviation industry to discuss how the sector can continue to flourish after the UK leaves the EU. The meeting follows the agreement in March between the UK and the EU to the terms of the implementation period, ensuring the aviation industry can continue to benefit from the existing liberal market access until the end of 2020. This paves the way for the UK to continue to participate in the European Aviation Safety Agency during this period. However, the terms of membership are not clear as it falls within a wider discussion on ECJ jurisdiction.  If you would like to help make the case for continued transport alignment, then please join us.

4. Ireland firmly on the agenda
As the Irish issue continues to dominate the Brexit process once more, especially with Michel Barnier visiting Ireland and Northern Ireland, the Financial Times reports on the various post-Brexit models for the Irish border. These models are “Hybrid Solutions”, “a softer backstop”, “a UK-wide backstop”, or “avoiding a border through inaction”. The more interesting options covered in the article are the ‘Hybrid Solutions”, which represent an idea presented by Theresa May of a UK-EU “customs partnership” is a hybrid that would allow Britain to stay in the bloc’s customs area while running an independent trade policy. However, “variants of the hybrid model, for the whole UK and specific to Northern Ireland, could return. Leaked documents show British officials have looked at giving Northern Ireland its own Hong Kong-style trade powers — open to both the UK and the EU. Officials are also looking at “dual origin” models, where certain Northern Ireland exports can be branded EU or UK depending on their destination”. All the various models for the Irish border are certainly interesting and worth looking into, this useful guide from the Financial Times comes at an opportune moment as negotiators seek a solution to the Irish border by the end of June European Council Summit.

5. Barnier: No Brexit deal for UK unless Ireland satisfied
Michel Barnier, who is visiting Ireland and Northern Ireland, has given Ireland his clearest message of support, insisting its interests will be defended in any exit deal with the UK. Writing for the Sunday Independent, Barnier writes that the EU “will not sign any agreement with the UK unless we- together with Irish Government – are satisfied with the solution found for Ireland”. Barnier further writes that the UK wants “regulatory autonomy and an independent trade policy; but at the same time it does not want a border on the island of Ireland. The time has now come to resolve  the contradictions”. 

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
UK transport in Europe (UKTiE)
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