UK Transport and Brexit News & Views No. 94

Mark’s EU Week for Transport
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Another crunch week or another opportunity to kick the can down the road? We’ll see, but it does feel like it’s game over for this stage of the Brexit shenanigans. And whilst the UK has effectively been granted another two weeks to complete no-deal preparations, the EU has today announced it has completed its no deal preparations. It is now assuming that the UK will crash out on April 12. Of course of this is to an extent gamesmanship, but I detect from senior officials that I’ve spoken to that this time the EU are not bluffing. The conduct of the UK Government last week has unfortunately seriously undermined confidence and further eroded trust.

The Brexit clock is now at midnight. Is there any way back? Well the obvious option of agreeing the Prime Minter’s deal looks as unlikely as ever, with no changes, let alone significant changes, being made to the backstop and the Prime Minster alienating the very MPs she was seeking to woo in her car crash of an address to the British public questioning the loyalty of MPs, and declaring ‘I’m on your side’ to the people. This undoubtedly alienated the DUP and members of the ERG, let alone Labour, but also boosted the attendance at the march of Saturday (the largest or second largest in UK history) and the viral petition, which also broke all previous records.

Of course marches and petitions do not negate a referendum result, but something is clearly moving and I suspect we are likely to see the swing to remain in the opinion polls moving from a trickle to a flood in the coming days. For what it is worth, my own personal advice to our beleaguered Prime Minster- let’s call the whole thing off, or at least seek the long extension Britain needs, and will be granted, if we come up with a coherent plan for forging a national consensus on Brexit.

I know compromise is a dirty word in Westminster politics, but as I learned the hard way during my ten years as an MEP, it’s the way the real modern world works. Maybe neither side can win, but surely we can agree to act in the national interest. And if the politicians can’t agree then we have no choice but to explore all options, from a constitutional convention to a general election, or  yes, even a new referendum. The UK’s adversarial political system is busted and we can either fix it now, however painful, or put it off, and rue the day.

This week’s song of the week, is We Got Trouble, by Martha 1914.

1. Brexit delayed after European Council Summit
Following a formal request by the United Kingdom to the EU27 to agree to an extension until June 30th, the EU’s answer came back following a late night discussion between the EU27 leaders: May 22nd in the event of her deal passing, or April 12th in the event of no deal being agreed by March 29th. The most immediate consequence of this EU agreement is that, under international law, the March 29th departure date has now been moved to April 12th. This new date in April is now the cliff-edge that March 29th once was. This extension has effectively given Theresa May a two week extension to find an alternative path should her deal not pass, for the third time, this week in Parliament. Another immediate consequence of this delay is regarding the financial implications of all the UK and EU preparatory work that revolved around the March 29th date that will now need to be amended to April 12th. 

2. EU completes No Deal Brexit preparations
EU officials said on Monday that it was increasingly likely Britain would leave the bloc without a divorce deal after April 12 and the EU had completed contingency preparations for such a scenario. The officials further highlighted that: “If there is no deal to smooth the transition, Britain would become a third country and EU laws would cease to apply on exit day. Britain’s relations with the EU would be governed by general international public law”. The No Deal contingency measures include: ensuring basic air and rail connectivity; adding new maritime links; and measures for visa reciprocity. The European Commission also warned of “severe disruption” for UK travellers under these No Deal measures. UK travellers won’t need a visa for trips of less than 90 days, as long as the plan is adopted by EU leaders and the European Parliament. But passports will need at least three months’ validity beyond the end of the trip, and can’t be used in EU lanes at airports in No Deal. Brits will also be asked for their length and purpose of stay – and to have “the existence of sufficient means of subsistence” to ensure they can fund their return.

3. Media makes its stand on Brexit
Over the past week, we’ve seen an apparent consensus building against Theresa May that has surely limited how much longer she will remain as Prime Minister. There has also been no shortage of newspaper editorials taking stock of the current Brexit impasse or even calling for particular paths to be taken. The Financial Times editorial board argues that in the face of “the most calamitous failure of government in modern times… If the prime minister is set on a third vote, she should call it at the very beginning of next week. If she is defeated again, it will be her solemn duty to offer MPs the chance to vote on a range of other options, including a softer Brexit and a confirmatory referendum.” The Economist recently also argued that “to break the logjam, Mrs May needs to do two things. The first is to consult Parliament, in a series of indicative votes that will reveal what form of Brexit can command a majority. The second is to call a referendum to make that choice legitimate”. The Sun editorial argues “Theresa May has shown courage — but to seal her deal and deliver Brexit, she needs to resign”, further arguing that her departure may unlock the Parliamentary arithmetic required for her deal to pass the House of Commons.

4. Transport Commissioner Bulc criticises airline groups for ‘Brexit gamble’
The Financial Times reports that Violeta Bulc, the European Commissioner for Transport, “has criticised airline groups including IAG, owner of British Airways and Iberia, for not yet submitting their plans for meeting EU rules on ownership in the event of a no-deal Brexit”. The article highlights that despite regular warnings to airlines to explain how they would comply with EU rules if the UK left without a deal, some had not submitted their plans: “There’s still lots of people who think [a no-deal Brexit] will not happen. They’re gambling.” Bulc pointed to the two-week grace period after a no-deal Brexit the EU has given airlines to submit their plans, and said it was “important also for [IAG] to have this extension and this transition period to complete all its activities”. If it did not submit a plan, its flying rights would be revoked.

5. Railway safety and connectivity with the UK – Council adopts Brexit contingency measures
Last Friday, the Council adopted a regulation on a temporary extension of the validity of certain authorisations, certificates and licences that are needed to run the services. This regulation ensures the continuity of train services between the EU (France and Ireland) and the United Kingdom in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. These measures are conditional on identical standards, requirements and procedures being applied to cross-border rail connectivity by the UK. The regulation will be applicable the day after the EU treaties cease to apply to the UK unless a withdrawal agreement concluded with the UK has entered into force by that date. It will cease to apply nine months later

6. 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?

7. 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
  • 12 April 2019 – Britain formally exits the EU, following ratification of Brexit by all other member states and the European Parliament. (tbc)
  • 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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