Mark’s UK Transport and Europe News & Views No. 89


The next few weeks will be tough ones for everyone involved in transport. We’re all working on no-deal planning, but we’re also working to ensure the right arrangements are urgently put in place to provide certainty for transport. Next week we meet with UKREP in Brussels to fine tune our Brexit preparedness and discuss the practical arrangements for influencing the EU whether we leave or not on 29 March 2019.  Meanwhile the European Parliament kicks off a debate on the EU Regulations which prepare transport for no-deal, in particular for road haulage and aviation.  And whilst they both will ensure we can keep people and goods moving they will remove important rights we currently enjoy.  In particular  for aviation, they relate only to 3rd and 4th freedoms. Whilst cabotage by UK haulage operators in the European Union will not be possible. And above all these measures are only temporary in nature.

Despite this being election year a vast quantity of new EU transport regulations continue to be considered by the EU institutions, on a whole range of subjects from drones to coaches. We’ll be keeping any eye on them and two key meetings announced by the Romanian Presidency on 26/27 March 2019 when an informal Council meeting of Transport Ministers will take place in Bucharest,  and a Transport Council on 6 June 2019 in Luxembourg. Brexit, or no Brexit, election year or not,  the pace of innovation and the challenges in transport means the regulatory agenda is getting increasingly crowded.

This week’s song of the week is It’s Not You It’s Me by BOJET.

1. Renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement on the cards? Not so fast say the EU leaders
Theresa May is reportedly looking at putting an Irish backstop “sunset clause” to a vote in parliament next week, and then using the result to demonstrate to Brussels the changes required that would see a Brexit deal secure a majority. However, as has been the oft repeated line from EU leaders, the Withdrawal Agreement is simply not open for renegotiation. However, while the Withdrawal Agreement may not be renegotiated, the EU is reportedly ready to look into changing the accompanying Political Declaration on the future EU-UK relationship. Addressing this topic, Michel Barnier said “as I see, following carefully the political debate in London, this debate is much more now on the future relationship. As I said last week at the EU parliament, if the UK want to be more ambitious, we are ready to be”. While renegotiating the Political Declaration wouldn’t remove concerns regarding the backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement, some have suggested that It could be rewritten to give concrete expression to the view that a much softer Brexit means the backstop would never be invoked. But the backstop would remain in place in the legally binding withdrawal agreement, even if it is never used.

2. Where does Labour fit into all of this?
Last week not only saw Theresa May’s deal suffer a historic defeat but also saw Jeremy Corbyn amplify his calls for a general election before, during and after the vote of no confidence against Theresa May. However, with Keir Starmer continuing to refuse to rule out Labour campaigning against Brexit in a hypothetical forthcoming general election, one has to ask whether the Labour frontbench are in agreement regarding Labour’s Brexit policy. The fracture is especially clear around the idea of a people’s vote, with continued efforts among Labour’s overwhelmingly pro-remain membership to push it towards backing a second referendum. In a letter in the Observer, more than 170 activists call for a special party conference on Brexit to endorse the idea. Despite this clear division on the party’s stance regarding a people’s vote, the Guardian reports that Corbyn and his shadow cabinet team are more united in their stance against no deal and are preparing to support a proposal that would force Theresa May to request an extension to Britain’s EU membership should no Brexit deal be agreed by early March.

3. European Parliament to debate No Deal transport contingencies 
Tomorrow the Transport Committee in the European Parliament will debate the No Deal transport contingency plans announced last month by the European Commission. These plans include: common rules ensuring basic connectivity on air transport, aviation safety and common rules ensuring basic road freight connectivity. This comes as France last week announced it was launching No Deal contingency laws and Germany introducing some No Deal Brexit legislation. With the EU speeding up their No Deal preparations, Theresa May may have to accept that the EU is more willing to accept a No Deal Brexit than one that risks the integrity of the EU itself.

4. Only 60 lorries allowed to cross Irish border in no-deal Brexit
According to the Freight Transport Association, only 60 lorry drivers from Northern Ireland will be able to cross the border in the Republic in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The Freight Transport Association believe a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for the industry and if they had to rely on permits it would sign the death certificate for many companies.  Applications for international road haulage permits closed last week, with many Northern Ireland drivers failing to apply. In the event of a No Deal Brexit, Commercial vehicle operators will need ECMT (European Conference of Ministers of Transport) permits to transport goods to the European Union (EU) and EEA (European Economic Area) if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March 2019. he UK as a whole would be given around 1,200 permits, with Northern Ireland getting a maximum of 5% or 60. The FTA has told the BBC that there were around 20,000 lorry drivers in Northern Ireland, with around 13,000 lorries crossing the border each day.

5. Transport and decarbonisation: two steps forward, one step back?
In his latest 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? 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.

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.
  • 15 January 2019 – 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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