UK Transport and Brexit News & Views No. 73

Mark’s EU Week for Transport


As the Brexit process has progressed over the last few months, various Brexit-related fights have been emerging. These ‘immovable object versus the unstoppable force’ fights are found in Boris Johnson vs. Michael Gove, Labour vs. Brexit, and European Research Group vs. the UK Government. These are the Brexit frontlines and are fights being fought in the public sphere by groups that all believe the same thing: ‘the other side is completely wrong’. In these Brexit fights, we see a strange pattern of one side being content with dismantling the other side’s arguments without proposing one of their own. This has created the Brexit limbo that we currently find ourselves in as many proposals have come and gone without any good alternatives being proposed. Brexit is not a runaway train, it is a train where the train driver, conductor and the passengers cannot agree on where the train should be headed nor whether the train should have left in the first place. The only thing that is certain is that the train has left the station and will have to arrive somewhere. So yes, while the Brexit process is chugging along and seems to be making some headway due to the sheer amount of things happening at once, as Alfred Montapert once wrote: “Don’t confuse motion with progress – a rocking horse keeps moving but doesn’t make progress”. We are no closer to clarifying our destination than we were the day after the referendum.

What is UKTiE’s role in this? We are fighting to make transport a priority in the Brexit negotiations. We have held meetings with stakeholders and officials alike to achieve the best possible Brexit for transport. Internal Conservative and Labour party politics aside, Brexit waits for no one and will not slow down on account of indecision or unclarity. Therefore it is our responsibility to provide clarity where we can and continue making the argument for a Government position that is fairer, goes further and goes faster. We will be discussing these issues at our UKTiE Forum and how we can continue making the case for UK transport in Brussels after Brexit. Please find the save the date for our forum here and please do let us know if you would like to attend.

Finally, l have launched my new monthly blog . In the first edition, I covered the push for autonomous transport within the European Parliament but I also discussed some of the unresolved issues that need to be ironed out. Transport legislation continues to be created here in Brussels undeterred by the Brexit political process happening around it.  

This week’s song of the week, dedicated to the smell of change in the air is Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’. Enjoy!

1. UKTiE submission to the House of Lords
UKTiE has made a submission to the Future UK-EU transport arrangements inquiry to The House of Lords EU Internal Market Sub-Committee. Our submission reiterates our calls for a fairer, faster Brexit that goes further than what is currently being suggested. As always, we offered to provide further information to the Sub-Committee should they wish to enquire further. If you would like to help us in our mission to clarify the Brexit negotiation and get the best possible Brexit deal for transport, then do join us.

2. UK asks for side negotiations on transport in the event of a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit
As reported by The Guardian, Dominic Raab was confronted by Michel Barnier in a recent meeting over correspondence sent in recent days to EU capitals by the Department for Transport asking for side negotiations on transport in the event of a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit. In an environment of low expectation for the Chequers deal being accepted by the EU, transport secretary Chris Grayling ordered these letters to be sent to the EU27. The letters asked the member states to prepare to engage with the British government in side deals on aviation and haulage, to allow key trade flows to continue in the event of the UK and the EU failing to come to an agreement on leaving the union by 29 March 2019. This appears to be the clearest indication yet of contingency planning on the UK side for a future transport relationship with the EU. Whilst such planning and action is to be commended, this is something that risks antagonising the European Commission who could view this as another attempt from the UK to circumvent the Commission’s mandate as the sole Brexit negotiator. Why side deals on trade and transport would succeed where the Brexit negotiations failed is something that only UK Government knows and something the EU27 doubt. If you would like to more information on what the EU27 and the UK are doing to prepare the transport sector for Brexit, then please do get in touch with us. 

3. Boris Johnson vs. Michael Gove: the fight for Brexit and the future of the Conservative party.
Last week we covered Boris Johnson’s Daily Mail column where he outlined his reasoning behind his ‘Chuck Chequers” movement. This week, a new opponent has risen up to give a face to a ‘Stick with Chequers’ movement. In an interview on the Andrew Marr show, Environment Secretary Michael Gove came to the defence of the Chequers deal but did so with quite an important caveat. In his defence of the plan, Gove said that the Chequers deal was “the right plan for now” and that “a future prime minister could always choose to alter the relationship between Britain and the European Union”. In what is shaping up to be a decisive month for the future of Theresa May, Brexit and the Conservative Party itself, the fight within amongst the Tories is likely to spillover into the party conference at the end of the month. After so many months of inaction, the time is coming for the Tory party to deal with the question of Europe, an historically divisive question within the party. Gove and Johnson each represent figures that big portions of their party could coalesce around. This fight has, in many ways, been coming for quite some time with both senior party members offering vastly diverging messages on the Brexit front. One thing that is certain is that the message from both sides of the Chequers debate is clear: pick your side carefully, Brexit is on the line.

4. Pressure increases on Labour leadership as Sadiq Khan calls for the people to have another vote
In an opinion piece for the Guardian, London Mayor Sadiq Khan wrote that “after a lot of careful consideration, I’ve decided the people must get a final say. This means a public vote on any deal or a vote on a no-deal, alongside the option of staying in the EU”. His reasoning is laid out in the article, where he describes a government that has failed to negotiate Brexit and now faces two bad choices: a bad deal or no deal. In what promises to provide a fresh headache to the Labour party leadership, Khan’s intervention comes ahead of a Labour party conference that may yet result in a changing party stance on Brexit. Whether such a stance is compatible with the manifesto the party ran on is a question that will need to be quickly addressed should a shifting position emerge from the conference. However, we see emerging disillusionment within the party over Labour being a mere bystander to one of the most important political moments in the UK’s history. As a result, there is an increasing number of people within the party who would agree with Sadiq Khan’s conclusion in his article, “it’s time to take this crucial issue out of the hands of the politicians and return it to the people so that they can take back control. Another public vote on Brexit was never inevitable, or something I ever thought I’d have to call for. But the government’s abject failure – and the huge risk we face of a bad deal or a “no deal” Brexit – means that giving people a fresh say is now the right – and only – approach left for our country”. Stay tuned for next week’s Labour party conference promises to be quite Brexit-dominated.

5. Next TRAN Committee meeting Draft Agenda- September 24th, 2018
The Draft Agenda for the next TRAN Committee meeting has been published. One of they key items of a packed agenda is the “Deployment of infrastructure for alternative fuels in the European Union: Time to act!”. TRAN is the lead Committee on a topic of great important at a time when decarbonisation is starting to get serious in transport. Mark will discuss the topic of decarbonisation further in his next monthly blog and will answer the following question: are we finally getting serious about decarbonising transport?

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.
  • 30 September 2018 – Date by which EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, wanted to conclude the terms of Britain’s exit from the Union.
  • 18-19 October 2018 – European Council summit with a specific Brexit focus.
  • 6 November 2018 – UKTiE Forum, European Parliament, Brussels
  • 30 March 2019 – Britain formally exits the EU, following ratification of Brexit by all other member states and the European Parliament.
  • 23-26 May 2019 – European Parliament election.
  • 31 December 2020 – End of transition period. (TBC)
Mark Watts
UK transport in Europe (UKTiE)
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