UK will ask EU for a post-Brexit “association agreement”. This will include a free-trade area for goods, and a looser arrangement for financial services. The UK reserves the right to make its own financial services regulation (paragraph 64) but that there should be mutual recognition (paragraph 66).
Further, it will include the UK running a “facilitated customs arrangement” (FCA). Paragraph 16 provides some insight into how this might work. It is clear much more work needs to be done. And crucially there is no guidance on when the FCA will be set up. Page 8 uses the rather ambiguous phrase “phased introduction”. A security partnership is envisioned, alongside continued membership of multiple EU agencies. Divergence is envisioned for digital and services sectors.
The free-trade area will require the UK to adhere to the EU’s common rule book for regulation and product standards for goods. A common rule book is vital to protect “just-in-time” supply chains. Perhaps confusingly, the paper appears to envision that the UK’s experts will be consulted “on the same basis as Member States” before referencing that the consultation should be done along existing pathways with third countries. Paragraph 22 should be read as the UK seeking to mimic an EEA deal. EEA experts are consulted “informally” (art.99 of the EEA Agreement).
Paragraph 37 seems to demand UK-EU equivalence on all areas of food. But if this is indeed important, it will be interesting to see how it plays out with calls by other States that the UK relax its standards to sign trade deals post-Brexit. For an example, see today’s article in the Financial Times on Indian food safety calls. At the same time the UK has called for the right to establish its own Geographical Indicators (GI scheme). This is difficult to understand as GIs are usually better the more widely they are recognised.
At paragraph 38 there is a contradiction in terms: “the UK would respect the remit of the CJEU” in challenges to decision made by an agency affecting the UK “noting that this would not involve getting the CJEU jurisdiction over the UK. In parallel, however, there will be an EU-UK committee. This committee would judge whether EU rule change is caught under the association agreement and whether the UK would have to continue to abide by EU rules.
On Northern Ireland, paragraph 42 shows that there is some picture of what a relationship after Brexit would look like, in particular the focus on the North South Ministerial Council and the treatment of the entire island as a whole epidemiological area. Paragraph 54 provides a hope that there will be a reciprocal recognition of professional qualifications. Significantly, paragraph 134 shows a new commitment from the UK that there will be “no requirement in any scenario for new permits for transport services between Northern Ireland and Ireland.” At paragraph 138, the UK government has sought to safeguard the single electricity market (SEM).
However, page 9 makes it clear that the partnership envisioned by the white paper is one where the UK and EU meet commitments made to Northern Ireland and Ireland whilst “ensuring that the operational legal text the UK will agree with the EU on the ‘backstop’ solution as part of the Withdrawal Agreement will not have to be used.
Concerningly, the paper mentions no fewer than five times that, “the UK and the EU will not have current levels of access to each other’s markets.” Equally, the government seems to have underestimated the degree to which the UK and the EU work with each other. The suggestion at paragraph 28 that the UK and EU would notify one another of any proposed and adopted legislative proposals that impact specific commitments to the future relationship, for example, is hugely burdensome. In short, the white paper appears to be the proposal of Norway+(+). It is difficult to see how anyone will be happy, should this be the relationship that the UK strikes with the EU post-Brexit.
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