The UK Government has published its long-awaited White Paper setting out its vision for Britain’s future relationship with the European Union.
Theresa May now faces the epic challenge of persuading Brexiteers in her own party to get behind the proposals while also trying to convince EU negotiators to support its goals.
The White Paper puts flesh on the bones of the statement that was agreed at the crunch cabinet meeting at Chequers.
The key points include:
1. There will be a free trade area for goods
If the UK Government’s vision becomes reality this free trade area “would protect the uniquely integrated supply chains and ‘just-in-time’ processes that have developed across the UK and the EU over the last 40 years, and the jobs and livelihoods dependent on them”.
It claims this “would avoid the need for customs and regulatory checks at the border, and mean that businesses would not need to complete costly customs declarations. And it would enable products to only undergo one set of approvals and authorisations in either market, before being sold in both.”
This will not quell demands for a similar arrangement for trade in services.
2. Free movement will be replaced with ‘mobility arrangements’
It states that “given the depth of the relationship and close ties between the peoples of the UK and the EU, the UK will make a sovereign choice in a defined number of areas to seek reciprocal mobility arrangements with the EU”.
Some eurosceptics will strongly oppose any measures seen to give preferential treatment to EU nationals.
3. Vehicles made in the UK would be recognised in the EU
Aston Martin, which has invested in a major production site in the Vale of Glamorgan, warned of the “semi-catastrophic” scenario in which production had to be halted if cars made in the UK were not approved in the EU.
The White Paper seeks to calm such concerns.
It states: “The common rulebook would include the type approval system for all categories of motor vehicles. The UK and the EU would continue recognising the activities of one another’s type approval authorities, including whole vehicle type approval certificates, assessments of conformity of production procedures and other associated activities…
“Both the UK and the EU would continue to permit vehicles to enter into service on the basis of a valid certificate of conformity.”
4. The UK will introduce its own scheme to protect Welsh lamb and beef
The White Paper stresses the importance of “Geographical Indicators” (GIs) for food exports which ensure Welsh lamb, for example, really comes from Wales.
Setting out its plans for its own scheme, it states: “GIs recognise the heritage and provenance of products which have a strong traditional or cultural connection to a particular place. They provide registered products with legal protection against imitation, and protect consumers from being misled about the quality or geographical origin of goods.
“Significant GI-protected products from the UK include Scotch whisky, Scottish farmed salmon, and Welsh beef and lamb.”
5. A plan to keep planes flying in and out of the UK
One of the top concerns has been that if no deal is reached aviation could come to a halt.
The White Paper says: “The UK will explore options for maintaining reciprocal liberalised access through an Air Transport Agreement. This would permit UK and EU carriers to operate air services to, from and within the territory of both the UK and the EU on an equal basis.”
6. You could still use the EHIC card when travelling in the EU
In a bid to prevent it becoming more complex to access healthcare when in the EU, the UK Government “wants UK and EU national to be able to use the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to receive healthcare should they need it while on holiday.”
7. The Welsh Government would be prevented from giving companies ‘anti-competitive subsidies’
A key question is how much freedom each government in the UK will have to support local industries. The White paper says the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will enforce rules.
It states: “The Government has made clear that it is committed to continuing the control of anti-competitive subsidies by creating a UK-wide subsidy control framework. The CMA, which is a world leading competition authority, will take on the rote of enforcement and supervision for the whole of the UK.
“The Government will continue working with the Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive, when in place, to ensure the new framework for state aid works for in whole of the UK.”
8. Big questions remain unanswered about the relationship between the Welsh Government, the UK and the EU
The White Paper gives little detail on the relations between the different UK governments after Brexit – or what will happen if decisions made by the Welsh Government lead to conflict with the EU.
However, there is an acknowledgement that relations between the UK and devolved governments will have to change.
The White Paper states: “[The] future relationship would be consistent with the UK’s commitment to deliver for the whole UK family, including the devolved administrations, and the Governments of the Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies. The future relationship with the EU will have implications for the existing structures of Joint Ministerial Committees being discussed as part of the joint review of Intergovernmental Relations.
“The UK Government will work with the devolved administrations to ensure that any modifications to the existing UK arrangements reflect the new relationship between the UK and the EU.”
9. A ‘governing body” would oversee the new relationship
The White Paper envisages “a Governing Body providing political direction and a Joint Committee to underpin its technical and administrative functions”.
This governing body would “meet biannually at leader level, including at least once between the UK Prime Minister and the heads of state and governments of the Member States of the EU as well as the presidents of the EU institutions”.
Carwyn Jones condemns ‘clumsy approach to trade’
First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “The UK Government’s White Paper is a significant change of direction which moves away from their red lines towards the negotiating position we set out in January last year. It is a source of regret that the UK Government has, again, had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this sensible approach, but today’s movement must at least receive a cautious welcome.
“However, far too many questions remain unanswered and some proposals – such as a twin track customs systems – appear unworkable. I fail to see why the UK Government choose to pursue such an overly bureaucratic and clumsy approach to trade, when continued participation in the single market and customs union would resolve these issues, protect jobs, trade and investment and provide the certainty and stability business needs.
“I will discuss the EU’s reaction to the proposals with Michel Barnier when I meet with him in Brussels on Monday. I will also take the opportunity to set out where we believe a flexible approach from the EU27 is needed to avoid the catastrophic ‘no deal’ scenario.”
Chuka Umunna: ‘White Paper is totally unworkable’
Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who supports a second referendum, was not impressed by the White Paper.
He said: “On any measure the Government’s White Paper is totally unworkable and a bad deal for Britain. Not only does it fail to meet the concerns of business, it does nothing to protect workers’ rights, safeguard the environment or protect consumers.
“The British people face a £50bn divorce bill, and people are quickly realising that Brexit will harm business, trade and public services. More and more members of the public know the only way to sort this political mess out is to take back control of the process with a people’s vote on a final Brexit deal.”
The CBI: ‘There is not a day to lose’
Carolyn Fairbairn of the CBI stressed the need for urgent action.
She said “There are gaps in these proposals and more detail is needed on EU VAT, some services sectors and the new customs system. It will be a make-or-break summer. It’s vitally important UK negotiators get their heads down and work with businesses to grapple with the detail and get it right.
“With three months left to go, it is now a race against time. The EU must now engage constructively and flexibly, as must politicians from all UK parties. This is a matter of national interest. There’s not a day to lose.”
Tim Roache, the general secretary of the GMB union had a scathing assessment of the Government’s plan.
He said: “The customs arrangements Ministers are proposing to put in place in a matter of months rely on technology that doesn’t exist. They are living in a fantasy land if they think this will keep trade afloat.
“All the while, Ministers remain dangerously preoccupied with internal squabbles. It’s not good enough.”