Trade Watch 2018: UK Brexit Proposal

The British government’s proposal for the United Kingdom’s post-Brexit relationship with the European Union has pleased neither the Brexiters nor the EU. It is easy to understand why.

The White Paper, The Future Relationship Between the UK and the European Union, boldly proposes that the UK leave the EU while keeping those aspects of EU membership the Theresa May government considers important or necessary. Boris Johnson, leading voice of the Brexiters, has resigned as UK Foreign Secretary in response to the White Paper. So has David Davis from his post as UK Brexit Secretary. The EU has questioned whether the proposals are workable.

The UK has already concluded a Withdrawal Agreement with the EU under the terms of which the UK is scheduled to leave on March 29, 2019. However, the terms of its post-Brexit relationship with the EU must be negotiated in the next few months – by October 2018. How does one unravel a complex trading relationship established over several decades?

Through a proposal to establish a “deep and comprehensive economic partnership,” along with carefully balanced appeals to both the British people and EU regulators, the UK proposal seeks to maintain the benefits of this trading relationship even after leaving the EU. The proposal documents “the unique ties that exist between the UK and the EU economies”. These ties include the “deeply integrated” supply chains and markets, to which the proposal refers, and which have made the EU the UK’s biggest trading partner.

Of course, these unique ties exist because of the UK’s membership in the European Union for the past 40-plus years. These ties and patterns of trade have helped the UK to achieve and maintain its current position as the world’s 5th largest economy. Disrupting these existing patterns of trade threatens the UK’s economic standing, which could take years, if not decades, to rebuild with new trading partners. This is the dilemma the UK government faces. And the need to avoid re-establishment of a border between Northern Ireland as part of the UK and the Republic of Ireland which remains in the EU has emerged as an unanticipated and complex issue of the Brexit process.

The EU is able to operate as a single market for the free movement of goods, people, and capital because of the negotiated rules that govern the economies of EU members –the very rules that Brexiters voted to escape. To maintain its economic relationship with the EU, a core element of the proposal for the new partnership is the establishment of a “common rule book”of only those EU rules the UK considers necessary for friction less trade between the EU and the UK. This approach is the “cherry-picking” the EU has said it will not allow. Appealing to Brexiters, these rules would be implemented autonomously by UK agencies. At the same time, the proposal assures the EU regulators that it knows how to implement EU rules and would also participate, without a vote, on relevant EU technical committees.Not surprisingly,the proposal on the “common rule book” is at the core of Brexiters’ displeasure with the White Paper.

To manage the relationship, the UK also proposes the introduction a new overarching institutional framework.With the aim of keeping the relationship “practical and flexible”, this new framework would include a Governing Body to provide political direction and a Joint Committee to underpin its technical and administrative functions and to address issues of non-compliance. Rights would be enforced in the UK by UK courts and in the EU by EU courts, with each taking into account the other’s rulings in order to get consistent interpretations.

Although the proposed institutional framework is probably not pleasing to Brexiters either, it may be one of the more thoughtful aspects of the proposal. In fact, the EU may wish to incorporate some of them in the future.

With respect to Brexit, however, it is difficult to see why the EU would be willing to add an entire new layer of institutions just to manage its relationship with one country. And there is also the concern that other countries might want to “leave” and negotiate similar arrangements.

Upcoming posts will discuss in greater detail the UK Brexit White Paper, which includes proposals on –

  • Trade in Goods
  • Services and Investment
  • Framework for Mobility
  • Institutional Framework for the new EU-UK Relationship

The UK government plans to use these proposals to engage the EU as they negotiate the EU-UK post-Brexit relationship. We will have to see – is the UK-EU relationship as important to the EU as it is to the UK?

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