Mark’s EU Week for Transport

Last week Britain looked more isolated in the Brexit negotiations than ever before. As we seem closer and closer to a no-Deal Brexit than ever before, the hardening of the EU’s stance towards the UK could have a profound impact on transport and supply chains, which will be the first to be hit if there is a no-deal Brexit. This is why,  as I’ll explain later, an extension or even withdrawal of Article 50 may be the only way forward.

Despite demands from Westminster, the EU27 declared they were not willing to open up the draft Withdrawal agreement for further renegotiation, or make a legally binding declaration on the temporary nature of the Irish backstop, or indeed anything else. In fact, we witnessed a toughening of their stance. The old draft text had previously stated that the EU27, “stands ready to examine whether any further assurance can be provided” and that “the backstop does not represent a desirable outcome for the union”.

Unfortunately the above-mentioned text was actually deleted in the new adopted text following Theresa May’s intervention last week. One glimmer of hope was the concession by the Presidency that the Council are likely to meet again in emergency session in January, but even if they do it remains extremely unlikely they will agree a legally binding commitment sufficiently clear to satisfy critics of the deal in the House of Commons, who fear the backstop will, as spelt out in the Attorney General’s advice, apply indefinitely.

So with the postponement of the vote on the Withdrawal deal in Westminster, and the vote of no confidence, the UK has lost vital Brexit preparation time, with next to nothing to show for it.

And whilst anything is possible, it’s now getting very tight indeed in terms of time for alternative options. The date of the UK departing the EU on 29 March 2019 is enshrined in primary UK law, which takes time to change. This is under normal circumstances. Clearly these are not normal circumstances, but without doubt the probability of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit has increased.

However, I remain optimistic that we won’t end up with no-deal.

For the first time I think there are enough indications, including last week’s ruling by the ECJ, today’s comments by the Irish Foreign Minister, and the lack of a consensus on the way forward at Westminster, to suggest an extension or withdrawal of Article 50 is not just likely but inevitable as the only way to end the impasse. Time will tell what the Prime Minister ends up doing, but as we discuss below, there are some calls for a “Plan B” to be fleshed out sooner rather than later.

In case you missed it, last week, I had the chance to have a conversation with Maurice Golden MSP, Scottish Conservative Chief Whip and the party’s spokesman on the Low Carbon Economy in the Scottish Parliament. We discussed Brexit, and future transport and environment policy cooperation between the UK and the EU. You can access the video here.

This week’s song of the week, ‘Nebulous‘ by Klone. 

1. Prime Minister under pressure over Brexit deal vote
Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Liam Fox said that Parliament might have to decide what to do next if Theresa May’s Brexit deal is rejected. In order for a “Plan B” to have time to materialize, Parliament is keen to hold a vote on the deal ahead of the Christmas recess, which starts on Thursday. This would allow Parliament time to consider and propose a “Plan B”. Alongside pressure from Parliament, the Prime Minister is also facing pressure from her own Cabinet ministers to “test the will of Parliament” through a series of “indicative” non-binding votes – which would see MPs pass judgement on the options available in the hope of identifying the most popular and shaping the way forward.  Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and Business Secretary Greg Clark echoed this point of view by saying that Parliament should be “invited to say what it would agree with”. Of course, the calls for “testing the will of Parliament” are not the only things that the Prime Minister has to deal with as she also faces renewed calls for another referendum to settle the issue. Whatever happens next, there are some tough choices ahead for the Prime Minister and Parliament as the UK heads towards its departure from the EU.

2. Romanian Presidency transport priorities
The European Parliamentary Research Service published a paper outlining the “Priority dossiers under the Romanian EU Council Presidency”. On transport, the following are presented as priority dossiers:

  • Use of vehicles hired without drivers (2017/0113 COD); Parliament is planning to adopt its first-reading position in January 2019;
  • Interoperability of electronic road toll systems (2017/0128 COD);
  • Cabotage-Amending Reg (EC) No 1071/2009 and Reg (EC) No 1072/2009 with a view to adapting them to developments in the sector (2017/0123 COD);
  • Clean and energy-efficient road transport vehicles (2017/0291 COD);
  • Combined transport of goods between Member States (2017/0290 COD);
  • International market for coach and bus services (2017/0288 COD);
  • Emission performance standards for new passenger cars and for new light commercial vehicles (2017/0293 COD).

3. Jeremy Hunt: UK will ‘flourish and prosper’ if it walks away from the EU without a deal
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the UK would “flourish and prosper” if it walked away from the EU without a deal. He added that “we shouldn’t pretend that there wouldn’t be disruption, there wouldn’t be risk, and there wouldn’t be impact and that’s why as a responsible government we have to make all the preparations necessary.” Jeremy Hunt’s comments come at a crucial moment for Theresa May and her Cabinet as they must come to an agreement over whether a second referendum is less preferable than a No-Deal Brexit. There is, however, a case to be made that comments such as those made by Jeremy Hunt are meant to convince the EU that the UK is serious about walking away from negotiations, what some believe to be the only way the UK will gain any concessions from the EU.

4. Brexit and travel disruptions
According to the European Commission, UK holidaymakers will need to pay a a €7 visa fee under the ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization Scheme). Like the American ESTA visa-waiver system, travellers have to pre-register their details and pay the fee in advance of travel.  The authorisation would then be valid for three years, or until your passport expires. The ETIAS will come into force in January 2021 and will allow citizens of 61 countries to visit the Schengen Area with travel pre authorisation rather than a full visa. This includes the UK, which will be considered a third country after Brexit regardless of any deal. This stories comes alongside reporting from the Times which suggests that families will be advised not to book holidays after next March, according to contingency plans being drawn up to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. One option the Government is reportedly considering to safeguard holiday bookings is for the Government to cover losses to holiday companies. Steps are being considered to protect holidaymakers who have yet to book trips, amid fears a no-deal Brexit will see flights grounded and spark chaos at airports and ports.

5. Transport and decarbonisation: two steps forward, one step back?
Last month, in his blog, Mark covered the fact that unlike the US, China, Japan and Canada, Europe does not yet regulate C02 emissions and fuel efficiency of HDVs. He asked if the EU will rise to the challenge of decarbonising Heavy Duty Vehicles? Later this week, Mark will publish his new blog where he takes a look at recent developments in the EU and at COP24 and asks whether we have gone two steps forward, and one step back when it comes to decarbonising transport. Stay tuned on the UKTiE Twitter page for Mark’s new blog later this week.

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.
  • 11 December 2018 – House of Commons vote on WIthdrawal Agreement
  • 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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