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Ed's Brexit round-up

2nd Mar 2018 / By Ed Barker

After last week’s fun and games from NFU conference, it was back to Brexit business this week.

EdBarkerNPAThe Northern Ireland problem: This month, the European Council (leader from each of the EU’s countries) will meet up and, basically, decide if there is a sensible way forward on Brexit for a transition period, and beyond. This week, the European Commission (who are separate to the Council, it must be noted) lay out the basis of their position on withdrawal.

In a 120 page legal text (yes, I read it), it stated that as a fall back position, Northern Ireland should remain in regulatory alignment with the Republic of Ireland, which was met with horror from The Government and Ulster MPs. Now anyone who has read my views will know that the test of Brexit will always keep coming back to the border in Ireland, and whilst denouncing the position of the Commission, the Government has not really provided solid assurances as to what it would do differently, other than adopt the ‘all Ireland’ model, or to keep the UK and EU in full regulatory alignment.

Both are unpopular with different parts of the Westminster clan of course. Other parts of the draft include binding the UK to EU court decisions into the 2030s and for regulators in the UK to accept EU standards beyond 2020. The Ireland approach is of course a last resort, and should hopefully spark the Government into thinking seriously about what it means, beyond glib comments about comparing it to going through the London congestion zone.

Labour set out its position: In other developments, the Labour Party took the Government by surprise in setting its Brexit position out in less ambiguous terms. Labour would seek to establish a new Customs Union with the EU (not join the existing one), which would see no tariffs between the UK and EU whilst reducing the need for checks at the Irish border.

This would also see goods traded freely, as it would recognise standards and apply common rules on external tariffs. Jeremy Corbyn did also state that as part of this approach, he would want to see heavy state aid rule relaxation, and to have a say in EU free trade agreements for the UK to go its own way if it wanted. These latter points are unlikely to ever go down well with the EU, but at least we have less ambiguity about their position from a goods point of view.

PM's speech: Finally, as I wrote this, all eyes were on the Prime Minister today as she was due to make another speech on Brexit (yes, I know…we have been here before). It was expected to deliver a warmer message to the EU, and state what the UK will be giving up (i.e. not having ones cake and eating it). It is meant to be an honest assessment of where the UK is, understanding the EU’s red lines. It will be interesting to see how it is received – you will know what it is trying to achieve by which MPs are being asked to comment in the media afterwards!