Framework for our future is only 7 pages long

by Nick Kent | 15.11.2018

The most important part of the EU deal is Britain’s future relationship with Europe. But that part is vague, not as good as our current EU membership and has no certainty of being adopted by either side.  

Most attention in the last 24 hours has focused on the lengthy withdrawal treaty and the details of the backstop arrangement. Few commentators have paid attention to what is the most important part of the package announced by May to Parliament today – the outline political declaration on Britain’s future partnership with EU.

It is this declaration which sets the terms for Britain’s long-term relationship with the EU after Brexit.  Its seven pages vividly demonstrate the absurdity of the UK leaving the EU while trying to stay involved in the majority of its policies and programmes. The declaration is essentially a shopping list of items to be discussed by the British and EU negotiators after Brexit.  

The section dealing with trade talks of “comprehensive arrangements creating a free trade area combining deep regulatory and customs co-operation”, underpinned by “a level playing field”. It goes on to talk about there being zero tariffs on goods and holds out the prospect of “ambitious, comprehensive and balanced arrangements on trade in services.” 

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There are also paragraphs on future security co-operation, including vital exchanges of data and maintaining an effective extradition system between the two jurisdictions. There is talk too of foreign policy cooperation between the UK and the EU, with even the possibility of the UK being represented at some informal meetings of the EU’s council of ministers.  

All of these things are positive but they cannot disguise the fact that more than two years after the referendum we still have no long-term agreed relationship with the EU. There is no guarantee, even if Theresa May’s deal is approved by Parliament, that the two sides will be able to negotiate and ratify a partnership based on this declaration. And such an agreement would require ratification not just by the EU’s institutions but also by the national parliaments of its member states.

One of the worst element of May’s EU deal is that it creates the potential for two cliff-edges for the UK economy. The first when the transition period ends and the “bare bones” customs union in the backstop comes into force.  And the second if and when the new, long-term relationship with the EU comes into force. This means that the government will come under enormous pressure from the business community to use the bare bones customs union as the basis for the long-term relationship.   

That would mean the end of the Brexiter fantasy of a” global Britain” landing great trade deals with the rest of the world. It would also increase the leverage of the EU because they would be able to see the pressure on the government to reach agreement quickly in order to avoid at least one of the cliff-edges.  

There is of course no need for Parliament to settle for this hopeless, wish list, political declaration. It can give people the choice of staying with the good deal we already have with the EU – our membership – by calling a People’s Vote.

Edited by Hugo Dixon