UK Transport and Brexit News & Views No. 77

Mark’s EU Week for Transport

Last week I spoke to Jean-Claude Juncker and he stressed that when it comes to the Brexit deal, it’s not by any means done yet. And now we know what he meant. What a weekend! Progress was made, and an agreement was in place until Theresa May’s lack of maneuverability left it in tatters ahead of a crucial Brexit week for both. After a tough Cabinet meeting, and David Davis openly calling for senior Government minister revolt, Theresa May’s ability to compromise suddenly became very limited. For now, Brexit negotiations are on hold until Wednesday, when the EU27 leaders will reconvene. The tentative technical-level agreement was always going to face the harsh reality of the UK political scene which makes Sunday night’s collapse more dramatic than it was surprising. What it does do is eliminate any possibility of the text of the withdrawal agreement being discussed by the EU leaders at the upcoming European Council summit this week.

The post-Conservative Party conference honeymoon period seems to be well and truly over for the Prime Minister now. David Davis and the DUP have laid the groundwork for what is now bound to be a tense showdown between the various Brexit factions within the Conservative Party. The biggest issue for the UK relates to putting a time limit on any proposal to remain in the Customs Union. The EU believes that a backstop such as remaining in the Customs Union cannot, by definition, be time-limited. There was something truly Kafka-esque, as some journalists pointed out, about the notion of a time-limited proposal without a set time limit. Something which will certainly come up in today’s Cabinet meeting, a meeting that will also decide what the UK’s strategy will be in approaching tomorrow night’s dinner at the European Council summit.

There will not be a shortage of obstacles to overcome for the Prime Minister this week. The biggest obstacle in her path seems to be convincing the EU27 to keep a possible November European Council on Brexit focused on an agreement and not on ‘No Deal’ preparations. In light of this weekend’s breakdown in talks, industry will have to double down on their own preparations for a ‘No Deal’ Brexit as this outcome is now as likely as it has ever been.

All of us involved in transport know what is at stake. Maybe a no deal Brexit may have worked if we spent the last two years preparing for it. But it’s not exactly a secret that the UK Government and EU have not.  The ‘No Deal’ guidances published over recent weeks vividly illustrate that fact. Despite the reassurances from some we know for there will be uncertainty at best, and chaos at worst.

At UKTiE we may be optimistic but we are also realistic in recognising that without a major political intervention from Theresa May, something which the domestic UK political scene is making harder and harder, we need to seriously begin ‘No Deal’ preparations. We also need to start looking beyond March and begin evaluating what our role will be towards the EU as a third country. This is why we are dedicating our upcoming UKTiE Forum to this topic, the theme of our forum being “Looking beyond Brexit: influencing EU transport legislation as a third country”. It takes place in the European Parliament on Tuesday 20th November. If you would like to join us and attend the forum, please do let us know.

Do ‘like’ this newsletter, share it, tell us your thoughts, register to secure your place at our Forum. And above all join UKTiE to shape the future.

This week’s song of the week, ‘Ruby Tuesday‘ by the Rolling Stones. 

1. UKTiE Forum- November 20th
The 8th Annual UKTiE Forum will now take place 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. David Davis strikes back
This weekend saw a few blows come the Prime Minister’s way, however, none were as bruising as David Davis’ call for revolt in the UK Cabinet. David Davis writes that “this is one of the most fundamental decisions that government has taken in modern times. It is time for cabinet members to exert their collective authority. This week the authority of our constitution is on the line”. Davis outlines what he sees as a faulty Government Brexit strategy both with regards to the EU and towards its own party. Davis writes “the existing strategies have led us into cul-de-sacs. As this has become apparent to MPs and the cabinet, the attempts to defend the policy have become more and more strident. Most recently there have been threats that if we do not accept the policy there will be a general election. This is completely bogus”. While it is tough to accept criticism from a key player in crafting the current Government Brexit strategy, Davis was still able to deliver a blow to the Prime Minister with his scathing article in the Sunday Times. While Theresa May has been able to dispatch Boris’ threats to her own position rather easily due to the naked ambition attached to his moves, she may yet find David Davis a tougher customer. This will surely be the case, should the Conservative Party find itself facing internal revolt by its own MP. A vague tweet sent by Julian Smith, Government Chief Whip, would seem to suggest anticipation of some unhappiness in the ranks.

3. Chris Grayling assures that flights will continue
Speaking in the House of Commons last week, Chris Grayling said that “there is nothing that the Government has said or done to imply that planes will be grounded.. that there will be no flights after we leave the European Union. I give this House categorical assurance that flights are going to continue”. The Secretary of State for Transport was unequivocal in his statement, but the fear remains in the transport sector and the aviation industry that under a ‘No Deal’ scenario planes could be grounded.

4. The Government publishes more ‘No Deal’ guidance notices
The UK Government has been steadily releasing a stream of No Deal’ guidances. Of the new batch released October 12th, there were guidances released on “Rail transport if there’s no Brexit deal“, “Meeting rail safety and standards if there’s no Brexit deal“, among others. These guidances serve as a outline to stakeholders across various industries of what the state of play would be in the event of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. They make for stark reading and show why a ‘No Deal’ Brexit would make for a bad Brexit for transport and UK industry. These guidances serve as a reminder that industry must make use of its voice before time runs out in the negotiations.

5. Getting serious on decarbonising the EU transport sector?
Mark’s blog this month covers the need for decarbonisation in the EU transport sector. He argues that it’s shocking that transport is the only sector of our economy where CO2 emissions have increased since 1990 and that transport is now Europe’s single biggest source of carbon emissions, contributing 27% to the EU’s total CO2 emissions, with cars and vans alone representing more than two thirds of that total. His blog this month tries to answer a critical question on the decarbonisation of the EU transport sector: is the EU finally getting serious about decarbonising transport, and cars and vans in particular?

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.
  • 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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