The Government’s White Paper on its approach to exiting the EU has been published. It is 77 pages long but does not really add much by way of detail to the Prime Minister’s speech of 17 January 2017 (on which we reported here).
In substance the paper is split into sections which each relate to the 12 objectives laid out by the Prime Minister in her earlier speech. These are:
In terms of proposed future legislation, we are told that there will be a Great Repeal Bill to remove the European Communities Act 1972 from the statute book but convert the ‘acquis’ (that is the body of existing EU law) into domestic law. The stated intention is that the UK Government and devolved assemblies will subsequently be able to decide which parts to keep or amend.
Post Brexit we are told that there will also be future primary legislation for other areas – immigration and customs being specifically mentioned. In addition, the final UK-EU deal will be put to Parliament for approval (although as has been mentioned before, there will hardly be any scope for renegotiation by that stage).
Much of the paper reads as if the Government is giving assurances that it is aware of issues that will need to be addressed and also saying that it is confident that they can be dealt with:
On balance, though, despite there being significant parts of the document stating that there are points that need to be agreed (the paper is very fond of seeking ‘solutions’ and resolving ‘issues’), for many of those the approach can be condensed into ‘we will do something; we know not what’.
For many, the key element is at section 8 relating to ongoing trade arrangements with the EU post-Brexit. Here, again, the fact that the UK will not be a member of the Single Market is reaffirmed. Instead the Government will ‘pursue … a new strategic partnership with the EU including an ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement and a new customs agreement’. This is highly ambitious. The Government’s reasoning behind believing that it can be achieved within the two year timeframe seems to rest on:
So there we have it – there will be a full free trade agreement with the EU. The section then goes through various economic sectors (aerospace, agriculture food and fisheries, service, financial services, energy, transport and communications and others), not really making many statements of intent. It reads as if the Government simply wants people to know that it is aware of issues. The paper also names certain EU agencies (which the Prime Minister’s speech did not do), but again simply says that it will have regard to them (although the UK will be leaving Euratom).
There is an interesting aside. The rationale for leaving the Single Market in the Prime Minister’s speech was that the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice was to end. However, under section 2 of the paper, it is explicitly recognised that there will need to be a dispute resolution mechanism: ‘we will seek to agree a new approach to interpretation and dispute resolution with the EU’. The paper then lists types of resolution forum (such as that used by CETA, NAFTA and others) and, in fact, has a whole annex dedicated to it. On that basis for trade at least, one court will need to be replaced with another carrying out a similar function.
If the Government’s 12 objectives are the skeleton upon which it hopes that the future relationship with the EU will rest, the White Paper does not put too much flesh on the bones. Perhaps the key concern will be the extent to which the Government’s aims are achievable or indeed realistic within the two year timeframe allowed under the Treaty framework.