Expert View

May’s deal is a half-baked, half-blind Ukraine model

by Michael Emerson | 23.11.2018

Michael Emerson is Associate Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels.

Theresa May’s “political declaration” on our future relationship with the EU, due to be confirmed in Brussels on Sunday alongside our exit deal, is so full of things both sides “should” and “could” consider that at face value it seems no deal at all.

But reading between the lines, you can see the slide towards something like Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the EU. That would provide a close relationship with the bloc on trade and in other areas like science and security, but at the cost of following EU rules without a say on them. This is a step up for a country trying to join the EU, like Ukraine, but a downgrade for the UK which currently has a seat at the top table.

The 26-page declaration even contains an explicit mention that a future deal “could take the form of an Association Agreement”. Ukraine is not mentioned of course, because the prime minister insists there is no existing model good enough for the UK. However, the content looks much like a loose version of Ukraine, but with the true extent of the likely rule-taking obscured by evasive drafting.

The EU is clear. The scale and scope of future arrangements depend on the UK’s willingness to “respect the integrity of the [EU’s] legal order” and that includes “the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the interpretation of Union law”.

If we’re to agree free trade, the EU side insists on “level playing field” provisions that “should cover state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environmental standards and relevant tax matters”. It’s now up to both sides to “consider the precise nature of commitments in relevant areas”.

But it is precisely these commitments that the UK government has been unable to specify because of the huge and enduring split between hard, soft and no Brexit advocates. Without clarity now on the extent of commitments to EU law, all May is offering is a blindfold Brexit.

There are warnings in the document that the EU will seek the kind of legally binding alignments on EU law in the Ukraine Association Agreement. It says several policy areas should be subject to provisions going “beyond” WTO rules: technical standards for industrial and agri-food products, our huge services sector, intellectual property rights.

More precisely for services, which make up 80% of the UK economy, both sides “should agree disciplines on domestic regulation”. These should include “licensing procedures and specific regulatory provisions” in sectors of mutual interest such as telecommunications, financial services, delivery services, and international maritime transport services. These are precisely the same sectors listed in the Ukraine Association Agreement that entail extensive regulatory alignment. But May’s political declaration hides this.

It goes on to cite a huge number of EU policies, agencies and programmes with which the UK may cooperate: the European Defence Agency, Europol, European Aviation Safety Agency, etc. But in all such cases the UK might only become an associate, with limited participation and no say in policy making.

Overall the political declaration on the future relationship is no deal at all, since it evades the crucial question how far the UK would be willing to be a rule-taker. However, it is clear that the UK wants something pretty comprehensive. But that means a comprehensive amount of rule-taking without a say. And it is this that the government cannot agree among themselves. For the prime minister to be saying that she has negotiated the best deal for Britain is therefore totally vacuous.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

4 Responses to “May’s deal is a half-baked, half-blind Ukraine model”

  • TM knows that we’re better off remaining in the EU, she just has an obsession with”delivering Brexit”. This sounds to me like a personal mission rather than doing the right thing. Yes, 17.4m voted leave, but 29m didn’t.

  • Luke –
    Would be great to see a Side by Side of what’s proposed for Ukraine and U.K. simple tick list by category.

  • The referendum has fallen into such disrepute (for good reason) that it is shocking that any politician would dare to refer to it as justification for the sh*t storm we are in.

    Especially now Mr. joke of the week JRM has been exposed as the leader of a bunch of aged old farts who have nothing to lose. Huffing and puffing and blow your house down! is their motto. They have not noticed the EU is brick built, if they even know where it is.

  • Side by side comparison with Ukraine could be done interestingly, but I await to see if UK variant survives 11 December…. don’t want to waste my time.