UK Transport and Brexit News & Views No. 92

Mark’s EU Week for Transport 
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It’s amazing how much time and energy is being invested in debating the Withdrawal Agreement rather than the political declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the EU and UK. Surely our future relationship should justify at least equal attention? Unfortunately, it’s as if as a nation we’re so transfixed by the backstop that we don’t have the bandwidth for anything else.  Indeed, if we had focused for the last two years on the future agreement we could have avoided the current impasse.

I’ve maintained throughout the Brexit process that on transport we will remain closely aligned to EU regulations for the foreseeable future, so we should focus on maintaining, as best as we can, our influence in shaping them. Becoming a ‘lobby nation’ was the phrase coined by Baroness Hayter at our UKTiE Brexit roundtable in the House of Lords. And in recent weeks, I’ve become more convinced that one way or another our Parliament will not significantly deviate from current or future EU transport regulations. There simply isn’t an appetite nor a majority to exercise that option.  We are not prepared to forego the level of market access or endure the degree of friction at our borders that would inevitably be a consequence of any deviation.  And I’m not just talking about transport here, but other areas vital to transport such as employment, environment, state aid and competition law.

Consequently, we should be busy continuing to engage wherever we can. I have attended a number of productive and interesting events recently to discuss the future of EU transport policy, including a roundtable last week with the Deputy Director of DG MOVE, Matthew Baldwin. What’s so depressing is that few, if any, UK interests turn up to these. And yet, UK transport will continue to operate to and from, and within the EU, irrespective of the type of Brexit we have. And as I mentioned above, we will also continue to be subject to EU rules, in the EU and the UK.

As an industry, indeed as a nation, we need to define our future policy priorities and then articulate them. I hope that an event we’re hosting in a few weeks time will help us do just that. We’re reaching out to other UK stakeholders with an interest in transport to see how we can best work together to rise to this challenge.

I also hope that my regular blog contributes to that process. One area of policy that I predict will come increasingly to the fore in the next five years will be EU measures to tackle congestion.  We should be shaping the new policies, and the regulations that will inevitably follow. The sooner we start, the better.

This week’s song of the week, is Let’s Get Started by Dylan Gardner.

1. Painting the picture of No-Deal
As we enter the month when the UK could be leaving the EU without a deal, a few outlets have explored what No-Deal could mean for the UK economy. The Financial Times writes that for sectors such as ports, that some of the issues have been addressed due to Brussels announcing unilateral measures that would give UK road hauliers point-to-point access to EU markets for the rest of 2019. Other actions that have been undertaken to help smooth what promises to be a critical situation include: large carmakers rescheduling planned annual shutdowns for April to avoid potential bottlenecks, HMRC waiving safety and security declarations for British imports and temporarily simplified plans for customs declarations. However, these have not eliminated the biggest problem for companies: a lack of experience in filling out complicated customs declarations as well as much of the paperwork being new to customs officials. On aviation, the Economist writes that because aviation is one of the few areas explicitly excluded from the remit of the World Trade Organisation, defaulting to that body’s rules is not an option leaving the European Commission with no choice but to come up with a proposal of its own because there is no existing regulatory fall-back option that would allow the continuation of flights between the EU and Britain after a no-deal Brexit. The proposals would ensure that “basic connectivity”, meaning that British carriers would continue to be allowed to fly over the EU and to make landings after Brexit. This basic connectivity is narrowly limited in both scope and time, a comprehensive agreement would still need to be hammered out within a year to ensure the cliff edge, postponed by these measures, does not come to fruition.

2. Varadkar tells ministers Brexit deadline ‘to be extended until June’
Irish media is reporting that Leo Varadkar has privately told ministers he believes the deadline for Britain leaving the EU will be extended to June. An extension until June has been referenced before in EU circles as extending the deadline beyond June would cause complications for the EU Parliament elections in May. If the extension was any longer, Britain may have to put forward candidates for the election. With a general assumption that even if Theresa May does get her Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament this month, that an extension would be required for the ratification process to take place. Varadkar’s reported comments follow comments he made last week on on No-Deal Brexit when he stated that “I think that the United Kingdom crashing out of the European Union without a deal on the 29th of March is unlikely. I think we either will have a deal or we’ll have an extension”.

3. More decisions not more time is what is needed, says Barnier
In an interview with French outlet Les Échos, Barnier said that what was needed was more decisions from the UK and that without these, more time in the negotiations would simply prolong the uncertainty, for both citizens and businesses. While Barnier said there would be no objection, in principle, to an extension but that questions would need to be answered over the purpose and whether something has changed in the UK that would require an extension. Barnier further argues that an extension would need to be used to solve a problem and not simply to delay the current impasse. One possible reason for an extension, according to Barnier would be a “technical” extension to give time for the ratification of any withdrawal deal as there is not currently enough time for this to be done by the end of March.

4. Government under pressure after Eurotunnel £33m payment over Brexit ferry case
Last week, the UK Government announced that Eurotunnel would be paid in an agreement to settle a lawsuit over extra ferry services in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Eurotunnel’s case was founded on the belief that the Government had handed out the ferry contracts in a secretive way last December and that it has itself not been consulted having previously run a cross-Channel ferry service as recently as 2015. In the aftermath of the No-Deal ferry contract being awarded to Seaborne Freight, a company with no ships, being cancelled, the pressure will mount further on Chris Grayling following this payment to Eurotunnel. According to the BBC, the case was settled outside of court by the Department for Transport because “had it gone to court, Eurotunnel was going to argue that the DfT had ample time for a full, public tender process, and could have foreseen all Brexit eventualities from at least the date on which Article 50 was triggered in 2017”. However, according to the BBC, the issue may not end there as part of the payment to Eurotunnel includes provisions for it to improve its own infrastructure, which may yet amount to another case of public procurement without open and transparent competition.

5. Congestion: What are we waiting for?
In his new blog, Mark takes a look at congestion in the major EU cities and asks: with the average motorist in Paris, Rome and London spending 10 days a year stuck in traffic jams, and the average last km speed now down to around just 12 km/hr in all three cities, what is the EU waiting for to take action on congestion? And, what can be done about it?

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
  • By 12 March 2019 – Meaningful Vote II
  • 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
Mark Watts
UK transport in Europe (UKTiE)
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