customs union

The Brexit Plan

Hello readers! After a week away, it’s time to refresh ourselves of events this last fortnight…

 

Of course Brexit dominates the headlines once more as the government announced a possibility of the UK retaining links with EU. The government has said it will end the “direct jurisdiction” of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in UK cases after Brexit, although the influence of the court will not be curbed altogether. In a paper published last Wednesday  a set of alternative models were proposed for settling legal disputes with the EU that would replace the current role of the ECJ, offering Theresa May greater room for manoeuvre in Brexit negotiations than her previous commitment to leaving the ECJ outright. In January, May pledged in her Lancaster House speech:

“We will take back control of our laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the [ECJ] in Britain. Leaving the European Union will mean that our laws will be made in Westminster… and those laws will be interpreted by judges not in Luxembourg but in courts across this country.”

 

Justice Minister Dominic Raab has stated the resulting divergence of case law between the EU and the UK would require the UK to keep “half an eye” on ECJ rulings, and for the EU to do the same in return. 

The plans came after the Home Office had mistakenly sent around 100 letters to EU citizens living in the UK, telling them they are liable for “detention” if they do not leave the country. There have been calls for Home Secretary Amber Rudd to apologise to those affected and reimburse any legal costs incurred.

With such mistakes, it is no wonder why those against Brexit hold doubts over the lack of influence from EU courts, particularly in cases affecting human rights where UK laws.

 

As the third round of Brexit negotiations continued in Brussels this week, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker  said none of the papers published by the British government setting out its Brexit plans are “satisfactory” and that a vast number of issues remain unsettled. Speaking to a conference of EU ambassadors, Juncker accused the UK of being “hesitant in showing all its cards” and of failing to offer solutions to the issues of the Northern Irish border and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. He also reiterated that no trade negotiations will take place until these questions are resolved.

One of the said issues which is yet to be resolved is the lack of agreement between UK and EU officials on the amount to be paid by the UK as a so-called “divorce bill”, which could total as much as 1bn (£92bn). The constant lack of progress makes us wonder whether Brexit will be achieved by the target of March 2019!

As the latest round of negotiations stalled, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has said Britain must not allow itself to be blackmailed over its Brexit settlement bill in order to start trade talks. Without an agreed figure, the EU will not allow talks about Britain’s future trade relationship with the bloc to begin. Fox’s warning came after the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there has been no “decisive progress” on the terms of Britain’s exit and accused the UK of demanding the “impossible”.

 

Meanwhile, The Labour Party announced its own plans for Brexit with some senior Tories fearing it may gain support from their own MPs. The announcement, made by the party’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, details the party’s continued support for membership of the single market as it bids to present itself as the party in favour of ‘soft Brexit’ (Scroll down for a quick breakdown of soft/hard Brexit).

Labour’s policy shift aims to establish a clear dividing line with the Tories on Brexit for the first time.  So what are these new plans?

  • Labour will support full participation in the single market and customs union during a lengthy “transitional period” that it believes could last between two and four years after the day of departure
  • Under a Labour government the UK would continue to abide by the EU’s free movement rules, accept the jurisdiction of the European court of justice on trade and economic issues, and pay into the EU budget for a period of years after Brexit
  • Permanent long-term membership of the single market and customs union would only be considered if a Labour government could by then have persuaded the rest of the EU to agree to a special deal on immigration and changes to freedom of movement rules.

Pro-EU Tory MPs, who also support remaining in the single market, will be put under intense pressure by Labour to fall in behind its position and rebel against their own party. If significant numbers were to do so, Theresa May’s already shaky grip on power would be seriously threatened. For these Tory MPs, they would have to decide between adhering to party lines or committing to their own positions as instructed by their constituents.

Now for a quick breakdown of soft/hard Brexit….


Soft Brexit
: –

This approach would leave the UK’s relationship with the EU as close as possible to the existing arrangements, and is preferred by many Remainers.

The UK would no longer be a member of the EU and would not have a seat on the European Council. It would lose its MEPs and its European Commissioner. But, it would keep unfettered access to the European single market.

Goods and services would be traded with the remaining EU states on a tariff-free basis and financial firms would keep their “passporting” rights to sell services and operate branches in the EU. Britain would remain within the EU’s customs union, meaning that exports would not be subject to border checks.

National models for this sort of deal include Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, which are not members of the EU but have access to the single market by being part of the European Economic Area.

 

Hard Brexit: –

Favoured by pro-Brexiteers, a hard Brexit arrangement would likely see the UK give up full access to the single market and full access of the customs union along with the EU.

It would prioritise giving Britain full control over its borders, making new trade deals and applying laws within its own territory.

Initially, this would mean the UK would likely fall back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules for trade with its former EU partners.

 

Also This week, Kezia Dugdale, leader of Scottish Labour resigned from her role with immediate effect. Writing to the chair of the party, Dugdale said she believed her party needed a new leader with ‘fresh drive’. Her full resignation letter can be viewed here.

 

Whilst one leader quits, Theresa May has insisted that she will lead the Conservative Party into the 2022 General Election contradicting reports she planned to stand down in 2019 when Britain leaves the EU. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, May said she wants to look beyond Brexit negotiations and hopes to tackle “long-term” issues within the UK, such as “social justice”. he Prime Minister made the comments as she arrived in Japan for a visit intended to boost diplomatic ties and lay the ground for a potential post-Brexit trade deal between the nations. Taking into account the continued riffs amongst Conservative ranks, May’s announcement risks reigniting anger among Tory MPs, many of whom have been dissatisfied with May since the party unexpectedly lost its majority in June’s vote. However, it also comes as many within the party and beyond feel there isn’t anyone at the moment who could be a real contender against May.

Can May’s leadership withstand all the trouble and strife that comes with Brexit and the internal backlash from her own party? It wasn’t long ago even her own ex-colleague, George Osborne, had called her a “dead woman walking” so how confident is the Prime Minister in her leadership? Only time will tell.

 

Other things you may have missed…

Councils have been ordered to reduce the number of people remaining in hospital beds when fit for discharge by as much as 70%, or face a withdrawal of social care funding. Councils responsible for delivering social care have received a letter from the Department of Health warning funding could be slashed in the 2018 Spring Budget for areas with continued high rates of so-called “bed-blocking”, which saw patients in England experience 177,000 days worth of delays in April this year. Council leaders have described the targets as “virtually undeliverable” and warn that withholding funding will only increase pressures on care services, whilst Labour’s Shadow Minister for Social Care, Barbara Keeley, has accused the government of an “overly simplistic and ill-judged” response to the situation.

 

Net migration to the UK in the last 12 months to end of March 2017 is down 81,000 to 246,000, with the net migration of EU citizens having fallen by 51,000 to its lowest level for three years, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). A spokesperson for the ONS has said the data – which shows a spike in departures of citizens from the central and eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 – may indicate Brexit is now a factor in people’s decision to move into or out of the UK. 

The figures follow years of heated debate over immigration – a key issue in last year’s referendum – and the Conservative Party’s 2010 promise to reduce net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’ .

 

On the topic of immigration, this week Prime Minister Theresa May faced calls to apologise for the five-year-long Home Office crackdown on non-EU students overstaying their visa, as official figures revealed that just 4,600 a year remain in the UK after their visa expires. Previous estimates cited by the Home Office had put the number at 100,000.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, who described the Home Office figures as “distorted and wrong”, has joined a chorus of politicians and think tanks calling for students to be exempt from migration statistics, a move the Prime Minister has repeatedly rejected. It is argued the focus on overstaying students has been a waste of government resources and has led the Home Office to downplay the economic importance of higher education. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has announced an expert review into international students’ contribution to the economy.

 

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy launched its plans to force all publicly listed UK companies to reveal the pay ratio between their chief executive and their average British worker from next June. Under further proposals aimed at improving workers’ representation in the boardroom, firms must assign a director to represent employees or create an employee council to help advise the business.

However, the new corporate governance code will operate on a “comply or explain” basis, allowing companies to opt out of the measures if they can offer a justification – contrary to a pledge made by the Prime Minister during last year’s Conservative leadership contest. This perceived watering-down has triggered condemnation from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and trade union leaders, who have branded the plan a “feeble proposal”.

 

Former Conservative Cabinet Minister Iain Duncan Smith has voiced opposition to government proposals to cut support for marriage and relationship counselling. Writing in an article for the Conservative Home website, Duncan Smith revealed officials have been instructed to draw up plans to scrap £10m of public funding for relationship counselling – a move he has condemned as a “retrograde step” that would worsen the “damaging effects of family breakdown”. He also argues the cuts would have an adverse effect on the economy, as the cost of family breakdown has been estimated to be £48bn a year.

 

The Conservative Party announced its new campaign ‘Activate‘, the right wing equivalent to ‘Momentum’. The grassroots campaign launched by affiliated Conservatives aims to “engage young people with conservatism”. It has close links with senior party activists, and is chaired by former Tory campaign manager Gary Markwell, a councillor in West Sussex. A Conservative spokesman said Activate was “not officially linked to the Conservatives and it receives no party funding”. The group’s constitution says it will be independent from the party, though all members are expected to be members of the main party. Although it has not officially launced, it has already received backlash on social media and mocked by those on the left.

What do you think, will you be joining Activate? Or are you more of a ‘stick to the party, not affiliated groups’ kind of person?

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May returns – but for how long?

This week, Prime Minister Theresa May returned from her holidays and was immediately thrown back into a wind of turmoil; she was criticised for her response to Trump’s comments to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, causing many to question May’s subservience to President Trump.  May appeared to criticise Donald Trump for his comments about last weekend’s violent far-right rallies in Charlottesville, saying there is “no equivalence” between fascists and their opponents. Her remarks came a day after Trump said left-wing counter-protesters at the white supremacist demonstrations were equally to blame for violent clashes, in which one woman died.

 

With Theresa May now back from her summer holidays, she’ll also have to confront the in-party disputes which surfaced to the public eye before the parliamentary recess.

Speaking of party disputes and possible leadership elections…

Some of you regular readers may recall in my post ‘Government in Mayhem‘, I discussed the issue of Europe and the divide its causing within the Conservative Party, leading to speculation of who will contest the leadership to replace Theresa May. One of those possible contenders was Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for North East Somerset, but this week the backbench MP with a reputation as a traditionalist,  dismissed reports he could be the next Tory party leader. Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Rees-Mogg said he ““wouldn’t put any money on it” , attributing the rumours to a lack of “pressing UK political news” during Parliament’s August recess. His comments came after two newspapers ran separately sourced stories over the weekend claiming the North East Somerset MP is considering launching a challenge to Theresa May, while a poll of Conservative members last week put him in second place behind Brexit Secretary David Davis.

However, Rees-Mogg has declined to rule out standing in a future leadership contest, which is widely expected to occur before the next General Election due to discontent among Conservatives over May’s performance in June’s vote. Could time be running out for Theresa May?

 

As the inquiry into the fire at Grenfell Tower gets underway, details were released about the scope of the inquiry which will begin this Monday. The probe, which is being led by former Court of Appeal judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, will evaluate the actions of Kensington and Chelsea council in response to the blaze, which killed at least 80 people, as well as the adequacy of fire regulations and the tower’s recent refurbishment. However, it will not consider broader issues relating to social housing policy, a decision in which many survivors and activists have rallied against.

May said she was “determined that the broader questions raised by this fire, including around social housing, are not left unanswered”.

The government says it wants all those affected by the disaster to participate in the investigation, but some survivors have previously threatened to boycott the probe if it does not broach issues such as social housing, which they believe contributed to the blaze.

 

Another Brexit update…

Brexit Secretary David Davis has said a temporary customs arrangement with the EU would be “in both sides’ interest” but that any such transition period should not exceed two years, with a deadline of the 2022 General Election as the “absolute maximum”. The customs union allows goods to travel across the EU free of tariffs and checks. Remaining part of this system would restrict Britain’s ability to sign independent trade deals with non-EU countries, as the customs union imposes a common tariff on goods outside of the bloc. However, ministers say staying in the union for a few years post-Brexit would “enable business to continue as usual” until a new agreement is introduced.

For the post-Brexit customs system, the government intends to seek an “innovative and untested approach” that could mean no customs checks at UK-EU borders. However, Guy Verhofstadt, head negotiator for the European Parliament, has described the idea of “invisible borders” as a “fantasy”.

 

The government has also set out its proposals for the Northern Irish border after Brexit, which it hopes will avoid the need for a ‘hard’ border with customs posts for fear of reigniting conflict between nationalists and unionists in the region. When Brexit talks resume in two weeks, UK officials will ask the EU to grant exemptions for all Northern Irish small traders and farmers from customs and food safety checks. In return, the UK would introduce rules to achieve “regulatory equivalence” with the EU, eliminating the need for inspections of live animals and other goods. Brexit Secretary David Davis has said the land border must be “as seamless as possible” to preserve peace in Northern Ireland.
Commentators however, have raised concerns EU economic migrants could travel through the Republic of Ireland to gain access to the UK, but the government argues it could limit the impact of such undocumented immigration through tighter work permit checks in Britain.

 

Other things you may have missed…

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has launched plans to fit every slaughterhouse in the UK with CCTV as part of an initiative to monitor animal welfare and enforce anti-cruelty laws. Under the proposals, vets will have unrestricted access to the footage, which must be installed in all areas where live animals are present. The government also plans to raise standards for farm animals and domestic pets by updating animal welfare codes, with the first review set to cover chickens bred for meat.

 
Shadow Equalities Minister Sarah Champion has quit the Labour front bench following a backlash against an article published in The Sun on Friday, in which the Rotherham MP wrote, “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls”. Champion initially tried to distance herself from the article, but resigned yesterday after expressing concern the controversy would “distract from the crucial issues around child protection”. Her article was written in response to the conviction of 17 men – some of whom were Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian – who were found guilty of raping young girls as part of a sexual grooming network in Newcastle.

 
The sound of Big Ben will be no more…well at least until 2021 to allow for essential repair works to take place. The clock’s famous chimes will sound for a final time at midday on Monday 21st August before being disconnected, but will continue to ring for special occasions such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday. Guess we’ll just have to play videos of the chimes until the repair work is complete eh!

 

MPs will return to their duties in the Commons on 5th September 2017.

Brexit – no going back?

As Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump exchange words of ‘fire and fire fury’ whilst the world subsequently prepares for WWIII, Brexit continues to dominate UK politics.
It’s no secret that the Conservatives are heavily divided over Brexit and the direction in which negotiations should take, which is why the latest Brexit update may not bring remainers or leavers any comfort.

 

Former diplomat, Simon Fraser, has warned the UK’s negotiations with the EU about leaving the bloc have not begun well due to disagreement amongst ministers over the type of deal they should be seeking. (Tell us something we didn’t already know!)

Fraser, who served as the Foreign Office’s most senior civil servant up until 2015, has called on the Conservative government to put set out a clearer position as the team responsible for handling Brexit negotiations haven’t “put much on the table” so far.
You only have to remember the picture of Brexit Secretary David Davis’ lack of paperwork during the start of negotiations to know not much thought is being given to the exit process. Fraser’s comments come amid reports that Downing is preparing to publish a series of ‘position papers’ in the coming week which will detail its proposals for the Northern Irish border and future customs agreements with the EU.

Ahead of that report being published, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond and International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox have released a joint statement confirming there will be a fixed transitional period after Britain leaves the EU. In their article published for The Telegraph, they did not clearly state the length of time for which this transitional period will last but did declare Britain will not stay in the union by the “backdoor” and will completely leave the single market and the customs union once Brexit is finalised and completed in 2019.

“We are both clear that during this [transitional] period the UK will be outside the single market and outside the customs union and will be a ‘third-country’ not party to EU treaties”

They said the UK’s borders “must continue to operate smoothly”, that goods bought on the internet “must still cross borders”, and “businesses must still be able to supply their customers across the EU” in the weeks and months after Brexit.

Sourced from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40914604

The joint article by the two ministers is being seen as a sign of unity on the Brexit issue – you will recall several posts on the in-fighting between Fox and Hammond regarding Brexit. Of course, for Prime Minister Theresa May who called for unity at the start of the summer recess this is important not only for her leadership but for the ease of Brexit negotiations in Brussels. However, criticism from the Liberal Democrats notes that this only demonstrates Mr Hammond being brought “back in line” with the government’s “hard Brexit program”. Tom Brake, the foreign affair’s spokesman for the Lib Dems also added:

“What we don’t know from this letter is exactly how this is going to work. It’s also not clear how long the transition period is going to be.”

Despite the attempt at showing public unity, there is no hiding from the deep divisions that still lie within the party, with many ministers disagreeing over key issues such as immigration and trade. This is addressed by SNP MP Stephen Gethins who stated there is “no masking the fact there are deep divisions within cabinet over Brexit – and still no apparent plan almost 14 months on from the vote”.

Criticism also came from Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw, who said leaving the single market and the customs union would be a “dreadful mistake for the future of our economy, for jobs and prosperity in Britain”.

What exactly are the implications of leaving the single market and the customs union?

  • Leaving the European Economic Area (EEA): –
    those in favour of remaining in the single market argue the UK government should try to negotiate staying inside the EEA, retaining friction-free trade not only in goods but also in services, upon which the bulk of our economy is based. However, the political price to be paid for such access is correspondingly high, and counters the objectives of pro-Brexiteers. In the EEA, Britain would be obliged to keep the four freedoms, including the free movement of people, (so no regaining control of our borders), align its regulatory regime with the EU’s (so no regaining sovereignty) & follow European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings and still pay into the EU budget.
  • Transitional customs union agreement: – 
    Other countries such as Turkey have a separate customs union agreement with the EU. If we were to have a similar agreement, the EU’s 27 members would set the common tariffs and Britain would have no say in how they were set. We would be unable to enter into any separate bilateral free trade agreement. We would be obliged to align our regulatory regime with the EU in all areas covered by the union, without any say in the rules we had to adopt. And we would be bound by the case law of the ECJ, even though we would have no power to bring a case to the court.
  • Trade: –
    If the EU were to negotiate an agreement with the US that was in the union’s best interests but against our own, our markets would be obliged to accept American produce with no guarantee of reciprocal access for our own goods into the US.

 

With so much to consider, there’s no wonder why Brussels are keen to get on with the negotiation process in such a short space of time.

According to to David Davis, the publication of the papers outlining the government’s aims for Brexit will mark “an important next step” towards delivering the referendum vote to leave the EU.

We just have to wait and see.

Other things you may have missed…

International Development Secretary Priti Patel announced the UK will contribute £100m to the global fight against polio in an effort to eradicate the disease by 2020. The money will fund the immunisation of 45m children annually for the next three years.

The last case of polio in Nigeria was in July 2016, so it could potentially be declared polio-free in 2019, but there will need to be three years without a single case to prove it has been eradicated. In her announcement, Patel highlighted: “The world is closer than it ever has been to eradicating polio for good, but as long as just one case exists in the world, children everywhere are still at risk. Now it is time for others to step up, follow Britain’s lead and make polio history.”

 

Plans to overhaul data protection laws could see Britons granted powers enabling them to ask for their personal data or information (i.e. Social media posts) to be deleted from in the internet. The proposals included in the new Data Protection Bill could see companies receive fines of £17m or 4% of their global turnover – whichever is higher – if they refuse to comply with users’ requests to delete their personal information. The proposed legislation was outlined by Digital Ministers, Matt Hancock, yesterday but will not be published in full until early September.

The Data Protection Bill is designed to bring the UK in line with the EU’s forthcoming General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), to ensure data will continue to flow freely between the UK and the European Union after Brexit. Under the union’s data rules, personal information can only be transferred to non-member states where an adequate level of protection is guaranteed.

Just goes to show Brexit it more than just about immigration and trade. With so much legislation that needs to be transferred from EU to UK law, can Brexit really be achieved by 2019 or is there scope for a reversal? Pleasing all sides, both remainers and leavers is not going to be an easy task; although the outlook of the UK once Brexit is achieved is still uncertain, one thing that is certain is many people will be left unsatisfied and displeased with life after Brexit.