The Brexit landscape has largely been quiet over the past couple of weeks with Parliaments in recess in Ireland, the UK and in Brussels. However, this looks likely to change with negotiations due to start up again this week and with Wednesday being set aside for discussions on Ireland / Northern Ireland issues and the future trade relationship.
It is expected that the UK will put forward its customs partnership proposal as the solution to addressing this issue. In light of this proposal already being dismissed by Brussels, and with reports from both the House of Commons’ Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and the House of Lords’ EU Select Committee both stating that the technology needed to allow for the border to remain as is does not exist, we are not optimistic that the much sought after breakthrough on this issue will be achieved this week.
As Parliamentary business resumes in Westminster, it is expected that the Government will suffer some defeats in the House of Lords as the EU (Withdrawal) Bill enters Report Stage in this House on Wednesday. A number of key votes are expected, but the one generating the most debate and column inches is an amendment that has been laid down that would require the Government to strike a deal with the EU that “enables the United Kingdom to continue participating in a customs union with the European Union”. It has backing from a number of Lords from a variety of parties including Article 50 author Lord Kerr, who sits as a non-party Crossbench peer in the House. From a Chamber perspective, we would welcome the passing of such an amendment as it aligns strongly with our Brexit position as set out in our Big Principles paper.
Recent weeks have seen a number of set backs for the UK’s Global Britain agenda. Earlier this month reports came out that any early trade deal with Australia would depend on the UK diverging from EU regulations on animal welfare standards and opening up its market to hormone treated beef. Disagreements have also surfaced in talks with India on a potential future trade deal. Earlier this month India’s High Commissioner in London, Yashvardhan Sinha, said that a deal with the UK “is not going to be done overnight”. In the same interview he also said that a “great deal” with the EU is “very important” to the country. One of the key sticking blocks in UK talks with India is migration, Prime Minister Modi has previously said that any trade deal with the UK must include more visas for Indian nationals, an issue that has stalled previous EU-India trade talks because of UK objections.
The above highlights just how difficult it is going to be for the UK to “grasp” the trade opportunities that Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, says await the UK after it leaves the EU. Deals with third countries will happen for the UK but the important question to ask is at what cost for the economy, businesses and the people of the UK? Our view remains that the trade agreements that await the UK will not be of similar value to the current great deal it has with the largest trading bloc in the world. Advocating for a deal which secures this trade, while putting in place the necessary safeguards from abuse, is the priority of the British Irish Chamber over the coming months.