UK Transport and Brexit News & Views No. 62

Mark’s Brexit Week for Transport


Another week and another wasted opportunity to secure the best possible deal for transport.

Let’s be frank, if the UK Government can’t agree on the most fundamental of Brexit questions, namely what sort of customs relationship the UK wants, there is little prospect of agreeing anything else, including securing the best possible deal for key sectors such as transport.

As one Cabinet Minister remarked today, it is not as if Brussels hasn’t noticed the UK Government is split and therefore these public rows are beginning to seriously undermine our negotiating position.

Moreover, to rub salt into the wound, the EU has already said that neither of the two options currently being considered by the Government are acceptable.

So what is to be done?

First, I think we as an industry need to speak with one voice and demand from the UK Government total clarity on a viable customs arrangement at the earliest opportunity. Every day they delay is one day less to negotiate the best possible post Brexit relationship.

Second, we need to step up to the plate and fill the vacuum when it comes to transport. The Government is clearly reluctant for whatever reason  to agree a position or future framework paper for our sector, so we should rally around our own. UKTiE has published one, it would be good if you could endorse it.

Contact me directly if you would like to learn more. 

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2. Car makers hit out at the Government’s Brexit plans – and call for UK to stay in the customs union
The Daily Mail reports that senior figures in Britain’s car industry want the UK to remain in the EU’s customs union and dismiss the two alternatives being considered by the Government as unworkable. Bosses in the car industry say that being part of the Customs Union has been the base for the growth of the car industry. Should the UK leave the Customs Union, the car industry would face major disruptions and would be forced to slash staff and move operations abroad. The UK government has tried to appease the fears of the car industry, notably the Japanese car makers. Despite the attempted reassurances from the government, Shinichi Iida, minister for public diplomacy and media at the Embassy of Japan has said that “it’s no secret that a lot of Japanese companies are, to be frank, concerned by the prospect of Brexit, they invested in this country in the first place as a gateway to Europe.’ Leaving the Customs Union, however, remains one of the cornerstones of the UK government’s Brexit policy and it is now considering two main customs plans- Customs Partnership and Maximum Facilitation. However, senior car industry figures dismiss either option as non-workable but also as confusing considering the EU has dismissed either option as infeasible. Is your business preparing for leaving the Customs Union? Join us to find out what you should be doing to prepare.

3. Norway Option? Norway softens stance on UK opting for ‘Norway Option’ Brexit
The Financial Times reports that Norway is open to the UK joining the European Economic Area, its prime minister has said, signaling a thawing in Oslo’s attitude to Britain taking the “Norway option” where it would be outside the EU but inside the single market. In an interview with the Financial Times, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said that the UK joining the EEA was “on the shelf” and that “I think we will cope very well if the Brits come in. It will give bargaining power on our side too. And it would ease Norway’s access to the UK”. This comes despite the supposed negative stance of Norway against the UK opting for the so-called “Norway option” as it would distort the small group and potentially change the group’s political and economic priorities. The “Norway Option” has recently gained quite some traction in Westminster, even before the House of Lords voted last week in favour of British membership of the EEA post-Brexit. Erna Solberg did, however, warn that there were potentially unacceptable costs for the UK were it to opt for remaining in the EEA, accepting certain elements such as agreeing to free movement of people and nearly all rules from Brussels as well as continuing to pay into the EU budget. Some have viewed the “Norway option” as the ‘Easy Brexit’ as it takes the UK out of the Customs Union but keeps it in the Single Market, a halfway house between leaving and remaining in the EU. If you would like a full report on what the ‘Norway Option’ means for your business and for UK transport then please do get in touch.

4.  Brexit seen threatening UK links in EU supply chain
Reuters reports that many EU companies are holding back on using British firms in their supply chains – which can involve parts criss-crossing borders several times – because of what they still don’t know about tariffs, regulations and the potential for costly delays at the border. This echoes a survey in March undertaken by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply which showed that nearly one in four British firms with suppliers in the EU was struggling to secure contracts beyond March 2019. Furthermore, Jeegar Kakkad, policy director at ADS, a British aerospace trade group, said big aviation firms were now asking British suppliers to warehouse a month’s worth of stock at their own expense, to offset the risk of Brexit border delays. The article further highlight that employers groups believe the best way of limiting the impact of Brexit on the UK economy would be to remain in the Customs Union, a hot-topic issue for the last couple of weeks as the UK government seeks to firm up its stance.

5. Members of the Scottish Parliament urged to reject EU Withdrawal Bill
On Tuesday, Members of the Scottish Parliament will be asked to formally refuse to give Holyrood’s consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill. The vote will happen at a time when the Scottish and UK governments are odds with one another over what happens to devolved powers post-Brexit. Scottish ministers have put forward a motion for debate on Tuesday, asking MSPs not to give consent to the bill. As such, it is expected that this motion will pass and will put the UK government in a position of having to decide whether to go ahead and legislate without Holyrood’s consent. Despite the UK government resolving a similar row in Wales, it seems that work needs to be done to resolve this issue with the Scottish government. As the UK government tries to firm up its own various stances on the most contentious Brexit issues, political fights in the country will not help in their endeavour to present a UK-wide stance on issues such as membership the Customs Union .

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.
  • 18-19 October 2018 – European Council summit.
  • 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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