The focus of the press has been on Downing Street this week where Theresa May has been presiding over the Tory party tearing itself to pieces over two proposals for the future relationship between the EU and the UK. These proposals are to either remove border infrastructure through technology that has not been invented yet or to create a customs partnership where the UK collects the EU customs duties to avoid a border. The problem with this (setting aside that the UK does not have a stellar track record of collecting EU duties even as a member) is that it is impossible to deliver. Modern supply chains mean that tracking individual components backwards and forwards across the border would be so complex as to be impossible.
Which brings me to the key point. The UK Cabinet is arguing over two options that are equally impossible. They are also options that the European Commission has already rejected!
This has been a busy week in Brussels, but the most significant developments have been in London. Firstly, the House of Lords backed the UK staying in the Customs Union, incorporating the European Charter of Fundamental Rights (ECFR) into UK law and restricting the use of secondary legislation to transpose EU workers and consumer rights in the Great Repeal Bill. (news.sky.com/story...)Read more
Another week of technical negotiations has passed with what seemed to be little to report - until this morning!
The UK finally decided to put forward a proposal to solve the Irish border problem but was told to go back to the drawing board after the half-baked attempt was subjected to "a systematic and forensic annihilation" which concluded "none of the UK’s customs options will work." You can read more here:
The EU’s rejection of the UK’s magical thinking is hardly surprising (at least to anyone who has been reading these updates!). I wrote about the reality that the UK faces a couple of weeks ago and I stand by my conclusion: a hard Brexit is not compatible with an open border on the island of Ireland. You can re-read my rundown of the situation here:
As we all watch the Commonwealth Games (and cheer on Scotland!) it is worth remembering what the Commonwealth is and – more importantly – what it isn’t. A number of senior UK Government ministers such as Boris Johnson and Liam Fox have expressed in various ways what seems to be a nostalgic yearning for the Empire. This reached a highpoint when officials started talking about Empire 2.0.
We also saw this during the referendum campaign: Westminster exceptionalism blended with a desire to get back to the ‘good old days’ has proven to be a toxic yet potent message.
To be clear, the Commonwealth is mercifully not the British Empire, but neither is it a trading organisation nor an EU alternative. The assumption that the legacy of Empire can seamlessly replace, or better the UK’s current trading arrangements with the EU is fanciful. The bottom line is simple: in 2015 about 44% of UK goods and services went to the EU while 9% went to the Commonwealth.Read more
This week has been, by the standards of Brexit events, relatively quiet as the negotiations carry on behind closed doors. I want to take advantage of this to run through why the Northern Irish border is proving so challenging. There has been a lot of ink spilt on this but most of it is assertion rather than an actual explanation of the issues we face.
The problem starts with Brexiters demanding that we leave the Single Market and have no Customs union with the EU. Without this, there would be no issue.Read more
There is now less than one year to stop Brexit. In the first Scotland in Europe update after the 2016 EU Referendum, I said that “until such time as we are no longer part of the EU, I remain your Member of the European Parliament and I have a job to do.” I stand by that. Scotland voted to remain and I will continue to represent the people of Scotland in the challenging weeks and months ahead.
We know that Brexit will damage our economy and our society. We know those who advocated Leave never had a plan and that what ideas they had have been exposed as undeliverable or flat out lies. We know that many people voted for their promises in good faith and are now wondering what will happen.Read more
Welcome to this week’s Scotland in Europe update. Today my thoughts are with the people of France following the events in Trèbes. Speculation helps no one and so all we can do at this stage is give our condolences to those involved and keep them in our thoughts.
I also want to thank the many people who have been getting in touch to let me know how useful these updates have been. Your kind words are very much appreciated!
In Brussels there have been two major developments. The first is that the EU27 and the UK have agreed a transition agreement… well they have agreed some of a transition agreement:Read more
This week the European Parliament agreed its position on the future EU-UK relationship by 554 votes to 110 with 51 abstentions. With a heavy heart I supported the motion as it is a rational response to the self-imposed red lines of the UK Government. The future we face is pretty bleak and is not one Scotland wants.
The resolution sets out Parliament’s input ahead of 22-23 March summit of EU Council when it is expected that guidelines for negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU will be approved. Any deal with the UK will require the approval of the European Parliament. It has been proposed that this relationship could be based on four pillars:
- trade and economic relations (FTA),
- internal security,
- cooperation in foreign policy and defence and
- thematic cooperation, for example on cross-border research and innovation projects.
The resolution stresses the importance of the integrity of the Single Market with its binding common rules, common institutions and common supervisory, enforcement and adjudicatory mechanisms. This means that even closely-aligned non-EU countries with identical legislation cannot enjoy the same rights, benefits or market access to those of EU member states. If you want to read the position in full, just click here:
You can also see my speech in the debate here:
The EU has spelled out what the UK has failed to. The ridiculous red lines set out by Theresa May last week, designed to appease the Brexit ultras of the Tory party, mean that we can – at best – expect a Canada style Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU after Brexit. The full Council guidelines laying this out can be read here.
As Kirsty Hughes of the SCER notes in her excellent assessment: “Estimates of what impact a Canada-style free trade deal could have on UK-EU trade, suggest a 35% drop in goods trade and a massive 61% drop in services trade – adding up to a 45% drop in trade overall.”
This will be hugely damaging for both Scotland and the UK. The UK Government’s own figures show this and, now that their analysis has been released by the House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee, we can all see that all Brexit scenarios are damaging. The current plan is the second worst of all the options.
Despite this, some Brexiters still keep threating a ‘no deal’ which is even worse!Read more
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:Read more