UK Transport and Brexit News & Views No. 74

Mark’s EU Week for Transport


I remain optimistic. Despite all the evidence to the contrary I believe a withdrawal deal in time for our departure from the EU in March next year is still the most likely outcome. How can I possibly say that?

Well, clearly Salzburg was a disaster. But it was a disaster for  everyone. Tensions and frustrations here in Brussels and in national capitals are reaching boiling point, and they had to boil over eventually. It’s good that happened now, not at the October summit, or the still likely November one. Indeed it means May returned to the UK emboldened and arguably in a better position to survive the Party Conference. Not something the EU27 will mind at all. Meanwhile the EU27 remains united. Again no bad thing if we are eventually to strike a deal with the necessary qualified majority. No deal is still in no one’s interests, especially the UK’s, or indeed the European transport sector’s.

The two sticking points remain: the EU’s concern that the Chequer’s deal cherry-picks the Single Market, and the lack of an adequate backstop for the Irish border. But let’s focus for a moment on what Article 50 actually requires. The key section is paragraph 2 where it says the deal must include ‘arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.’  Taking account the ‘framework’ for its future relationship means we do not need to spell out the full blown future trade deal at all at this stage. I still think there is enough wiggle room to fudge this and secure a compromise so both sides can claim victory. Our submission to the UK Parliament sets out how that could be achieved. That would also go a long way to ensuring there is no return to a Hard Border. This would get us to the next phase, the 21-month-long transition period, starting March 29th next year, when we need to flesh out the details of that future relationship. That’s when the hard work really begins.

So let’s expect plenty more drama in the run up to November, but in the process not lose sight of our end goal, which is working for the best possible Brexit for UK transport. In that light, we are hosting our 8th Annual UKTiE Forum on 20 November where we will discuss how we can make the UK’s impending third country status work for transport. Our chosen theme “Looking beyond Brexit: influencing EU transport legislation as a third country” will be a discussion on how we can continue to influence things here in Brussels even after Brexit. If you would like to join us and attend the forum, please do let us know.

Finally, l launched my new monthly blog earlier this month. 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 last week’s Salzburg meeting, I Have Confidence from the Sound of Music (set in Salzburg), Enjoy!

1. New date for UKTiE Forum
The 8th Annual UKTiE Forum will now be held on the afternoon of November 20th in the European Parliament. We will be making the case for UK transport in Brussels after Brexit. Our chosen theme is “Looking Beyond Brexit: Influencing EU transport legislation as a third country”. With speakers outlining case studies and the role of business, this forum represents a great chance to conceptualize what the UK’s role as a third country could look like.  If you would like to join us for the UKTiE Forum, then please do let us know.

2. New Labour Brexit policy? More questions than answers
This week sees the Labour Party Conference convening in Liverpool. One of the biggest topics is, unsurprisingly, Brexit and more precisely a motion that some believe has opened the door for a new Labour policy regarding a People’s Vote. However, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has today said that any possible referendum would be on the terms of a Brexit deal and would not be an In/Out referendum. Rows over Brexit have dominated the start of Labour’s annual conference where more than 100 constituency parties submitted motions demanding a second referendum and thousands of people joined a march demanding a people’s vote on the final deal. With Labour clearly preferring the option of a general election, the notion of backing a second referendum or a “People’s Vote” will remain a lingering issue due to Labour leadership’s vague stance on the issue. Contrary to expectations, the fight during the conference may yet shift from members versus leadership and may actually be a fight within the leadership itself. With Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell singing from different hymn sheets on the question of last night’s agreed motion and whether a People’s Vote should be considered, we see that Labour’s vague Brexit stance may not survive its conference. 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. Chequers full speed ahead
Salzburg- a place that will go down in history as one of the most predictable outcomes that seemed to come as quite a shock to Theresa May and her team. Despite the rejection en masse of Chequers by the EU leaders, Theresa May came out swinging on Friday with a sternly-worded defence of her Chequers plan. The Chequers plan appeared dead on Thursday evening, due to a combination of rejections from the EU, Labour, and many in Theresa May’s own party. However, Theresa May believes that Chequers represents the only viable option for a future relationship with the EU. She will need to get through the Conservative Party Conference with her defence of Chequers, something which will test the survival abilities that Theresa May has shown since the snap election. So it’s full speed ahead for Chequers, a plan that with a few tweaks may survive the EU test but one that it may not survive a UK Parliamentary vote. All eyes on the Conservative Party conference next week, and on Theresa May who will also appear on the Andrew Marr show this coming Sunday to defend her Chequers plan in the aftermath of the Salzburg rejection by EU leaders. For our views on Chequers, please read our submission to the House of Lords.

4. Getting serious on decarbonising the EU transport sector?
The EP ENVI Committee has tabled its report for Plenary, which focuses on the decarbonisation of the entire transport sector, the consideration of the social aspects of the transition towards zero-emission mobility and technological innovation among other things.  This comes 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?

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.
  • 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.
  • 20 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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