UK Transport and Europe News & Views No. 88

Mark’s EU Week for Transport

A historic night for all the wrong reasons. This is what I feel sums up what happened last night in the House of Commons. What happens next will certainly be of interest to everyone involved in and around the Brexit negotiations. However, what I see in the House of Commons are several irreconcilable factions that will be the ultimate stumbling block to any Brexit deal getting a majority. We assume the UK Government will announce a new plan backed by around 150 MPs, the Labour opposition of around 250 MPs wants a permanent Customs Union, around 90 or so Tory MPs want no-deal, and around 100 or so MPs from all Parties want a second referendum/no Brexit.  Therefore, the only option that currently stands is the one enshrined in UK statute, namely a no-deal Brexit.

So what are our options then? To my mind there are only five possible paths forward after last night. The first being No Deal which, If nothing else happens, remains the default position because it is enshrined in UK law. Secondly, there could be a major renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement but this would require an extension of Article 50 and the EU has been firm in rejecting this as a possibility. Thirdly, another referendum could be called, although there would have to be a new piece of legislation to make it happen and is unlikely to produce anything close to the majority required to settle the issue. Fourthly, a general election could be called, this would also require an extension to Article 50 and is also unlikely to to significantly change the Parliamentary arithmetic. The last option would, of course, be a revocation of Article 50 and cancelling Brexit, which does appear to be the least likely option on this list.

At UKTiE we have always sought to present a constructive view in the Brexit negotiations. However, as the risk of No Deal continues to increase, UKTiE seeks the ‘best possible Brexit deal’ should become UKTiE seeks ‘to ensure the right arrangements are urgently put in place to provide certainty for transport.’  What we cannot accept, and what is currently a great fear for industry, is that last night’s vote has set us beyond the point of no return for leaving the EU without a deal.

This week’s song of the week, courtesy of the uncertainty around Brexit, is We Don’t Know by The Strumbellas.

1. Historic defeat leaves No Deal more likely than ever
As Michel Barnier said this morning, the risk of a No Deal Brexit has never been so high than in this very moment. Last night the House of Commons overwhelmingly voted 432-202 by a historic margin to reject the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration negotiated in November 2018 by Theresa May’s government. This defeat, the largest government defeat, leaves the Prime Minister in a highly vulnerable position with 118 Tory MPs voting against her and as she faces a motion of no confidence which has been tabled by Jeremy Corbyn. Although we expect the Prime Minister to survive this vote, with the DUP and Brexiteer Tories backing her. As stated by Theresa May, she will now table an amendable motion outlining the way forward for the Government in light of last night’s defeat. Until then, she will be sounding out opposition parties by holding cross-party discussions with a view of exploring what changes to the Withdrawal Agreement would make it palatable enough to pass the House of Commons. One thing that clearly emerged from last night’s vote is that the likelihood of No-Deal has increased since yesterday evening with Theresa May having virtually no room to maneuver and being asked to find an acceptable deal that will somehow bridge the political divide in the House of Commons.

2. Where the EU stands today
The Financial Times has reported that “senior EU officials at the heart of the negotiation see the result as a reality check on three fronts: Britain’s scheduled March 29 exit date; the durability of a draft agreement previously billed as a ‘best and last’ offer; and the question of how to manage the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the Northern Ireland border”. However, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that “the risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening’s vote. While we do not want this to happen, the European Commission will continue its contingency work to help ensure the EU is fully prepared”. This statement shows that , from the EU’s perspective, last night’s vote is not the beginning of a renegotiation but a confirmation of the need to continue contingency planning. In light of last night’s vote, several EU countries have decided to ramp up their preparations for a No-Deal Brexit. Although there is now a growing consensus on March 29th being an impossible date for the UK to leave the EU with a deal, there is no agreement on whether an extension of the negotiations would yield any positive result. Regarding the prospect of reopening negotiations with the UK, Macron’s initial reaction to last night’s vote was rather clear: “we’ve reached the maximum of what we could do with the deal and we won’t, just to solve Britain’s domestic political issues, stop defending European interests”.

3. European Parliament publishes report on autonomous driving 
This week the European Parliament published a report titled “Self-driving cars in the EU: from science fiction to reality“. The report addresses what the EU is doing to face the challenges of the automated transport sector. The report states that “while technologies are progressing rapidly, the EU is working to ensure common rules”. The report stresses that “EU policies and legislation concerning automated and connected transport should cover all transport modes, including short-sea shipping, inland waterway vessels, drones transporting goods and light rail systems”. The report further adds that “standardisation efforts at international level need to be further coordinated to ensure safety and the interoperability of vehicles across borders”. According to the report, this comes in the context of automated vehicles being expected between 2020 and 2030.

4. ICYMI- Romania publishes Presidency programme 
Yesterday, Romania published its Presidency programme for the next 6 months. On transport, the programme does not offer too much detail but does state that “the priority for the Romanian Presidency will be to continue negotiating the three mobility packages, aiming at achieving a balanced compromise for the proposals on land and maritime transport and infrastructure”. Alongside this priority, the Presidency sees the Connecting Europe Facility, railway passengers’ rights, completing the TEN-T network, as well as facilitating discussions on the negotiation, signing and entry into force of air transport agreements between the EU and third countries.

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? Next 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 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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