UK Transport and Brexit News & Views No. 90

Mark’s EU Week for Transport 
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In a crunch two weeks for Theresa May and the Brexit negotiations, things are coming to a head. 

Yesterday in the House of Commons, Theresa May asked for an extension to the negotiations to seek alternative arrangements to the backstop and secure support for her Withdrawal Agreement. Despite suffering yet another defeat, high noon has been postponed to February 27th. Last night’s vote has no direct effect but no longer allows her to come to Brussels with a mandate for any deal or for any changes to be made to the deal. With MPs still waiting for Meaningful Vote II, Theresa May is trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat in order to find some form of clarification or changes to the Withdrawal Agreement that would appease the concerns that saw her deal being handed an historic defeat in the House of Commons. The EU has (once again) remained steadfast in their assertion that the only document open to change is the Political Declaration. 

In various meetings I’ve had in Brussels, the conclusion is the same: even if the Withdrawal Agreement is reopened, whatever comes out of fresh negotiations would probably be a worse deal than the one the UK currently has.

Whilst the Government continues to seek more time to secure what appear to be unrealistic changes, businesses and the transport sector continue to run out of time to adequately prepare themselves for Brexit. Political uncertainty makes for exciting viewing, but not for those seeking clarity and certainty for their businesses. This is why we at UKTiE are seeking to ensure the right arrangements are urgently put in place to provide certainty for transport.

This week’s song of the week, Time is Running Out by Muse

1. Brussels vs. Member States on No Deal Brexit contingency legislation
In preparation for a No-Deal Brexit outcome, the European Commission published new laws to ensure “basic connectivity” for airlines and hauliers in the event that the UK were to leave without a deal. The European Parliament voted this week on these measures in Plenary in Strasbourg. However, the European Commission is finding itself at odds with some EU Member States who are seeking to provide some more generous measures to the UK with their own No-Deal contingency planning. These basic connectivity acts are emergency legislation tries to avoid the most serious consequences of Brexit unfolding overnight while stopping well short of replicating the full benefits of the single market for Britain in the event of no-deal. As the FT highlights, “the Commission’s strict approach to maintaining only “basic” connectivity for planes and trucks — which would only allow such vehicles to go to a single destination and come back — has proved too austere for some member states, which fear it would hurt EU industries and create unnecessary disruption”. As the article further highlights, “France warned that suddenly removing so-called “cabotage” rights from UK hauliers, which provides more operating freedom within the EU market, would substantially increase traffic flows through the Channel tunnel and cause serious problems. Without offering such rights, EU hauliers could also potentially lose access to intra-UK business, an important market for the French sector”. What the different approaches show is something that we haven’t really seen in the Brexit negotiations so far, a seeming division between the EU member states regarding No Deal preparations and how willing they are to protect their economies from the potential No Deal fallout.

2. European Commission publishes Withdrawal Agreement explainer
The European Commission has published a 60 slide explainer on the Withdrawal Agreement. This matches similar slides that the UK Government published on the Withdrawal Agreement last November. These slides are a good explainer on what the Withdrawal Agreement entails, and what the various aspects of it mean for the UK and the EU.

3. View from the Netherlands: Rutte warns of devastating impact of No-Deal Brexit for the UK
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has stated his alarm to the fact that the UK appears to be doing nothing in order to remove the possibility of No Deal and crashing out of the EU at the end of March. Rutte was quoted as saying ““Who will be left weakened by Brexit is the United Kingdom,” he said. “It is already weakening, it is a waning country compared to two or three years ago. It is going to become an economy of middling size in the Atlantic Ocean. It is neither the US nor the EU. It is too small to appear on the world stage on its own.” With the Netherlands emerging as one of the likeliest post-Brexit allies for the UK, these comments by Rutte will do nothing to assuage fears over the UK’s standing in Brussels and in the EU27 capitals following two years of intense negotiations. While the Netherlands is one of the EU countries that would suffer the most from a No Deal outcome, Rutte stated that “it was difficult to assess the impact because for the moment The Netherlands was only seeing benefits, as companies shifted offices and staff there from the UK”.

4. Greg Clark’s deadline comes and goes
Earlier this month, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that the “last minute” deadline to strike a deal to protect UK exporters was “fast approaching over the next few days and weeks”. Clark further stated that some firms reliant on exports would need to know the terms of Britain’s withdrawal well ahead of that March 29 deadline. He said: “Will they have to pay tariffs? Will they be subject to rules of origin checks that will no longer be met?” Clark said that “engineering firms exporting to Japan had already warned him that they would need six weeks’ notice of any new trading arrangements – a move he said would bump the real deadline for a deal up to “mid-February”. Following another period of delay, this supposed deadline has come and gone, leaving exporters in the lurch having shipments already leaving the UK to non-EU destinations not knowing what arrangements they will be subject to upon arrival. 

5. Transport and decarbonisation: two steps forward, one step back?
In his new blog, Mark 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. He says that despite a very bleak prognosis, the good news is there is at last significant evidence that the EU is starting to take the challenge of decarbonisation seriously.

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.
  • 27 February 2019 – Meaningful Vote II
  • 23-26 May 2019 – European Parliament election.
  • 31 December 2020 – End of Transition Period
Mark Watts
UK transport in Europe (UKTiE)
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