Scotland in Europe Update: 2nd March 2018

It has been busier than normal this week and that is before anybody mentions the weather. I hope that everyone is staying safe and warm back in Scotland as I sit in Brussels waiting for a flight back home.

The most important development here in Brussels was the Commission’s release of the draft Withdrawal Agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom. This covers citizens' rights, other separation issues such as goods placed on the market before the withdrawal date, the financial settlement, transitional arrangements and a protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

The UK could have produced such a text but has not. Meanwhile, the EU, knowing that time is of the essence, has produced one. It is not a final text, but it is a good start going further on citizens’ rights than the UK has and crucially it provides a solution to the issues surrounding the Irish border. Namely, it would keep Northern Ireland in the EU Customs Union and large amounts of the Single Market.

To be clear, this solution is only used if the UK doesn’t produce a solution of its own that works. That is what was promised in December and what the UK Government has failed to deliver thus far. Any outcome that creates a border is unthinkable and would jeopardise twenty years of peace. The full text of the draft, should you want a read, is available here:

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Meanwhile, back in Scotland, the Scottish Parliament has introduced a continuity bill to protect devolution from the UK Government. As Mike Russell said as he introduced it:

“It is not typical for a Minister to come to this chamber to tell members that they regret the introduction of legislation, but that is the situation I find myself in today. …

“I regret it because it is about preparing for an event – the UK leaving the European Union – that I do not wish to happen and which is, of course, contrary to the wishes of the people of Scotland, 62% of whom voted to remain in the EU.”

We are forced to do this because, without such a bill, which has support from every party except the Tories, the devolution settlement will be fundamentally undermined by Westminster, without consent. Irrespective of Brexit, the powers of the Scottish Parliament must remain in the hands of the Scottish Parliament. This bill will deliver that; nothing the UK has put forward so far will. The full bill introduced can be read here:

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Finally, I would like to end with a bit of fantasy. As I type I have just finished watching Theresa May’s speech which contained some welcome elements. The tone was better and notably, she stated a desire to remain in a number of crucial EU agencies and an acceptance that the UK will need to pay into the budget to do so.

Unfortunately, there was very little detail, and a lot of what was given is unconvincing. The biggest issue remains the border on the island of Ireland. Her Customs Union proposal remains confused at best and outright fantasy at worst. It is simply not possible to avoid checks through technology if the UK is out of the Single Market and Customs Union: a brief trip to Norway, which is a member of the Single Market but not Customs Union, will show you this!

Right now, there is a lot to keep on top of. The EU is being logical and consistent, the Scottish Government is defending the devolution settlement, and the UK Government… well, they still don’t have a detailed plan.

 


 

The Irish Foreign Minister met with Michel Barnier the day before the release of the legal proposal.
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As I said in my National column, Barnier is a man who understands Irish politics and knows how much hard work was needed to get Northern Ireland to the place it is now.
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The UK Government released a paper on EU citizens during the transition period. It does concede to a number of the EU’s demands, such as allowing anybody who arrives during the period to work towards receiving indefinite leave to remain.
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But there is still more work to be done. The Brexit Steering Group of the European Parliament responded swiftly, emphasising that: “we cannot accept that there will be any form of discrimination between EU citizens who arrive before the start of the transition and after.”
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An ex-aide to Brexit Secretary Liam Fox has said that leaving the EU is like swapping a three-course dinner for crisps.
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Boris Johnson likened the Irish border challenge to the London congestion charge, thereby showing he either has absolutely no idea how borders work (despite being Foreign Secretary) or will just say anything to deliver Brexit.
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In private, he has been writing to the PM to say "it is wrong to see the task as maintaining 'no border'".
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This piece, written before the Commission’s legal text was published, explains the Irish border situation very well.
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The Irish Commissioner to the EU has said that if the UK stays in the Customs Union it would go a long way to solving the problems on the Irish border.
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Pascal Lamy, former Head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), gave evidence to the House of Commons and warned that: “There is a serious risk that this [the transition period] is too short to come to a full-fledged new trade arrangement.” Moreover, he has backed up the position of the Irish Commissioner stating that: "The moment the UK exits the (EU) Customs Union there has to be a border. The choice is whether it is north-south or east-west.”
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“The dangers now facing Northern Ireland are the inevitable consequence of UK Government policy” is the view of the Daily Record on the Irish border question, with the UK Government having shown “callous disregard for the Northern Irish economy, the peace process, and the views of the majority of people in the province who voted to remain.”
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“Leaving the EU without a deal would undoubtedly be hugely damaging to the UK automotive sector, more so than to other European countries” concluded the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee
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Andrew McConaghie has written this useful analysis showing how a Customs Union wouldn’t secure European Medicines Agency alignment.
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Leading astrophysicist Mark McCaughrean says that UK citizens in Europe are being ignored by the UK.
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Earlier this week Donald Tusk said the UK position on Brexit was ‘pure illusion’.
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Aston Martin is applying to have its new car licensed in the European Union not the UK due to Brexit.
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Tanja Bueltmann has written this impassioned plea for EU citizens.
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John Major gave a speech attacking Theresa May’s handling of Brexit. The full text can be read here:
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Tobias Locke has delved into how transition could work in an article for European futures.
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