UK Transport and Brexit News & Views No. 66

Mark’s Brexit Week for Transport


Whilst the ‘backstop’ debate dominated the Brexit news last week you may be forgiven for missing the future partnership paper for transport published by DExEU, a paper UKTiE has been calling for for almost a year. I’m sure it is something we should all welcome. The position paper is a good start, but we still need much more clarity. Indeed it’s noteworthy not for what is in it, but what is not included.

On rail and maritime the paper is strangely silent. There are no sections on rail or maritime. So we don’t know what the Government’s position is on mutual recognition of rail licences and standardisation? What about market access for rail services & products? For maritime, what about port and maritime services? What about cabotage, seafarers’ certificates, recognition of UK Recognised Organisations, and marine equipment approvals? For all modes no clarity on whether we want in on the EU air, rail & maritime agencies?

Silence too on state aid and competition policy, yet only two weeks ago the Government published the ‘Framework for the UK-EU Economic Partnership’ which said ‘we will consider keeping in step with the EU’s state aid rule and competition regime.’

The paper states that ‘the UK considers that any commitments to fair and open competition should be commensurate with the level of market access provided for’, but fails to explain whether or how far the UK wants to move away from or stay close to the European regulatory model. Instead it advocates mutual recognition. If anything this is a retreat on the principles outlined by Theresa May in her Mansion House speech on the UK’s  future economic partnership with the European Union, in which she basically committed the UK to regularly alignment, unless Parliament decided otherwise in the knowledge that there may be consequences for our market access.  Mutual recognition, by the way, is something Michel Barnier has already ruled out.

Another key question not addressed by the Government, ’ how can we remain in the regulatory driving seat, given the regulatory regime will still largely be dominated by the EU?’

And there are many other questions. That’s why UKTiE will be holding a meeting with Peers & MPs, hosted by Lord Tony Berkeley, on 18 July in the House of Lords, to discuss this paper. It will be a good opportunity to secure clarification from Government Ministers and for industry to set out what we want to see as the final destination in terms of a new partnership.

Finally, let’s not forget a future partnership for transport will form will be a mixed treaty. It will not only require the ratification of the European Council and the European Parliament, but each of the 27 national parliaments, and some regional parliaments too, and by unanimity. As we’ve said time after time, we’ve all got a job of work to do in Brussels and national capitals to persuade them to back a new partnership. But if the UK Government doesn’t spell out clearly where we are going it’s hard to work out how best to work with Government and our European partners on how get there.  

By popular demand, and due to the focus on key votes in the Commons this week and the internal UK government discussions of last week, the song of the week is London Calling by the Clash.

1. UKTiE House of Lords Event- July 18th
In the wake of last week’s publication from the UK government on their ”Framework for the UK-EU Partnership: Transport UKTiE is happy to announce that we will be holding a roundtable on Brexit & Transport Wednesday in the House of Lords on 18th July 15:00 in Committee Room G, hosted by Lord Tony Berkeley.  The event, titled ‘The Framework for the UK-EU partnership for transport’ will focus on the following issues:

·         What is the destination?
·         How do we get there?
·         How do we keep businesses and customers going during the process?
·         Can we remain in the driving seat?

This event will discuss the Government’s paper and will give us a chance to explore how we can work together to deliver our objectives, all the while ensuring businesses can trade and the needs of customers are met. Finally, this event comes at a timely occasion to consider how we remain in the policy and regulatory framework driving seat post Brexit.

2. The UK Government publishes it’s Future Framework for the UK-EU Transport relationship
Amidst the chaos of last Friday with regards to publishing the temporary customs arrangement technical note, the UK government also published its ‘Framework for the UK-EU Partnership: Transport’. A long-awaited document (as regular readers will know), it has failed to live up to our expectations and demands of what the UK government’s transport stance on Brexit must be. The omissions of maritime and rail are as surprising as they are perplexing. Having read the document, there will perhaps be more confusion as to where the Government stands on key transport issues as this document offers no clarity and raises more questions. The level of detail compared to EU slides on aviation and transport, for example, is minimal at best. UKTiE will be putting together a comparative analysis between the UK government documents and the EU documents, please do join us if you would like access to such an analysis.

3. D-Day(s) in the Commons 
June 12th and June 13th, 2018. Mark these days in your calendar because the Commons will begin two days of debates tomorrow on the EU Withdrawal Bill. Why is this important? Because Theresa May and her government need to overturn 14 out of 15 amendments that the House of Lords passed last month. Deserving particular attention is the meaningful vote amendment tomorrow afternoon. Should this amendment fail to be overturned, then Parliament would have the ability to reject the final Brexit deal, effectively shifting negotiation power away from Number 10. Adding to the intrigue, the meaningful vote may not be as simple as a Yes/No vote on the Brexit deal as Parliament will, after a petition signed by 100,000 people, debate whether to include a third option of abandoning Brexit altogether. However, it wouldn’t be a proper Brexit saga if there wasn’t further intrigue underpinning the main act. Depending on who you ask, you will hear different opinions regarding which amendments are the most dangerous for the Government. In truth, most of the amendments would do some degree of damage to the Government’s Brexit negotiation stance and ability to unilaterally carry out the negotiations. Between the amendment forcing Ministers to obey the Good Friday Agreement and keeping Northern Ireland in the Customs Union, the amendment forcing the Government to stay in the European Economic Area and retain Single Market membership, or the amendment forcing the UK to retain the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights; there will be plenty of debate on a range of Brexit’s most contentious issues. So, buckle up because things could change really quickly if the Tory Rebels and the Opposition ever decide to get themselves organized on any of these votes.

4. Much Ado About Nothing- David Davis and the Backstop fiasco
A rather innocuous Brexit week turned into quite the drama as a fairly routine government technical note on post-Brexit customs arrangements threatened to derail the Government and spark the resignation of its chief Brexit negotiator. It all kicked off on Thursday evening when the paper was circulated and rumours of David Davis’ unhappiness began to circulate, this was eventually publicly confirmed by Sarah O’Grady, journalist at the Daily Express and also the wife of David Davis’ Chief of Staff. What was so inflammatory that David Davis threatened to resign? The paragraph on time limitations of the so-called ‘Backstop’ option at the very end of the paper. For the purposes of clarity, the ‘Backstop’ is what was referred to in the December Withdrawal Agreement, and is what the UK refers to as a ‘temporary customs arrangement’, as the last resort for the customs arrangements in the absence of any agreed solution. The paragraph in question, titled ‘time limiting the agreement’, reads as follows: “The UK is clear that the temporary customs arrangement, should it be needed, should be time limited, and that it will be only in  place until  he future customs arrangement can be introduced. The UK is clear that the future customs arrangement needs to deliver on the commitments made in relation to Northern Ireland. The UK expects the future arrangement to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest.There are a range of options for how a time limit could be delivered, which the UK will propose and discuss with the EU.” David Davis supposedly pushed for the inclusion of a clear time limit, however, vague sentences such as “should be time limited” or “The UK expects the future arrangement to be in place by the end of December 2021”, leave you wondering that if this was a David Davis win, then what would a defeat have looked like? Another point that seems to go unnoticed is that this paper pertains exclusively to customs, and the UK has yet to share its thoughts on the regulatory environment. As we already know, the European Commission shared its slides on customs controls which show that only 30% of the checks are customs-related. The EU has also published slides showing what it believes its ‘Backstop’ to look like, where the whole of the UK would not be covered. There is a clear growing appetite on the EU side for the hard border to be between Northern Ireland and the mainland of the UK.

5. 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.
  • 18 July 2018- UKTiE House of Lords Event ‘The Framework for the UK-EU partnership for transport’.
  • 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. (TBC)
Mark Watts
Co-ordinator
UK transport in Europe (UKTiE)
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