Statement in response to the government’s Brexit white paper from The UK in a Changing Europe

Professor Anand Menon, Director of The UK in a Changing Europe, said:

“The Government’s White Paper should be welcomed, and is a useful starting point for the process of agreeing a future relationship between the UK and EU.

“Most strikingly the white paper represents a slight pinking of the UK’s red lines to ensure the absence of a border on the island of Ireland – a welcome recognition of the urgency of that particular problem. But it is far from being a solution to the Irish question or the issue of the broader trading relationship.

“Whilst I would hope the EU welcomes the evolution in the British position, it is difficult to envisage the plan being accept without further clarification and most probably further evolution on the British side on issues such as a practical alternative to a customs union and the nature of governance structures to oversee the so-called ‘joint rule book.’ Much remains to be done.”

Dr Simon Usherwood, Deputy Director of The UK in a Changing Europe, said:

“Three major issues are apparent. Firstly, the absence of a detailed and comprehensive plan for the Irish dimension means that the most immediate block to reaching a deal on the Withdrawal Agreement remains in place.

“Secondly, much of the consequence of the white paper’s position comes not from what it says, but what it doesn’t. For example, the language on free movement of people focuses what will be kept, rather than lost.

“Finally, the price of the Chequers consensus, even when elaborated in the white paper, appears to be some internal contradictions, as on the extent to which Parliament will have powers to refuse to implement EU rules, or on the role of the EU’s Court of Justice. While it is important to maintain room for manoeuvre in a negotiation, this cannot be achieved by creating a position that does not stand up on its own terms.”

On trade and economics, Professor Jonathan Portes, Senior Fellow at The UK in a Changing Europe, said:

“These proposals would effectively keep us in the single market for goods and food products – except we’d have far less influence over the rules. On services, including financial services, the UK continues to ask for extensive market access on the basis of “equivalence”, but at the same time seeks regulatory autonomy.

“While these proposals have been presented as a softening of the government’s approach to Brexit, even on the most optimistic interpretation they would still, in practice, mean new and substantial non-tariff barriers to trade, particularly in services. The government’s own “Brexit economic impact assessments” suggest that this would have a large and negative impact on the UK economy, perhaps in the region of three percent of GDP over 15 years.”

On immigration and free movement, Professor Jonathan Portes said:

“The white paper offers nothing substantively new on immigration and free movement; while a future trade agreement may cover mobility for business purposes, there is no commitment to a more generous regime for work or family visas than for non-EU countries, still less to a modified version of free movement.

“The rest of the EU is likely to see this as a missed opportunity, meaning one of three things is inevitable. Either the government will have to make a substantial further move on this, beyond the white paper; the EU27 will have to reverse their position that it is impossible to cherry-pick the ‘four freedoms’ of the single market; or the broader white paper proposals will be largely dead on arrival.”

Professor Catherine Barnard, Senior Fellow at The UK in a Changing Europe, said:

“The Prime Minister’s foreword to the white paper opens with the mantra with which we are familiar: We will take back control of our money, laws, and borders. She also says that means ‘leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union, ending free movement and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.’

“But the devil is always in the detail. She wants a ‘common rulebook’ for goods including agri-food, with the UK making an upfront choice to commit by treaty to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods’. And that, the white paper acknowledges, may mean a role for the ECJ in interpreting those EU rules. And as for free movement: the signals are mixed.

“The limited provisions laid down by the WTO’s GATS framework will form the basis and certain groups, such as students and the young, may benefit from a more generous regime but the door, at the moment, seems closed for those businesses relying on EU adult workers and hoping for a continued preferential regime.”

Matthew Bevington, Policy Researcher at The UK in a Changing Europe, said:

“The government has now offered greater detail about what it would like to retain about the UK’s relationship with the EU; whether there is an EU framework in which it could work in its entirety is highly questionable. There are broadly two models which the UK can pursue for its future relationship with the EU: market integration or trade liberalisation. The white paper reads mostly as cake made of the latter, with—dare I say it—a number of cherries picked from the former.”

The UK in a Changing Europe recently released The Brexit white paper: what it must address, which offers more comprehensive analysis on the government’s white paper.

Disclaimer:
The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative.

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