Brexit Views 20 February 2018

Senior UK Minister’s have been speaking at a variety of events across the EU delivering the Cabinet’s “roadmap to Brexit” and some details are starting to emerge on how the UK views its future relationship with the EU.
 
Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson kicked off the run last Wednesday with a valentine’s day speech that was aimed at uniting the country around Brexit. It was within this vein that he ruled out a second referendum saying that such a move would divide the country further. In his vision for a liberal Brexit, which was light on detail, Johnson spoke of a future where UK citizens would continue to be able to work in the EU, retire in Spain and take advantage of “cheapo flights” to the continent for stag parties. All the while the UK would be free from EU regimes, diverge from regulations and have more money for the NHS. Such claims, have led many to question the achievability of the vision that was set out in the speech while many criticised that the border on the island of Ireland didn’t get so much as a passing mention in the address.
 
Prime Minister May’s speech on Saturday had a bit more substance to it and the Prime Minister used her speaking slot at the Munich Security Conference to propose ways that the UK and EU could continue to cooperate on security and defence post-Brexit. Special mention was given to continued cooperation with Europol and participation in the European Arrest Warrant. The Prime Minister’s recognition that these EU agencies must remain under the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the EU makes a treaty as sought look like an achievable prospect that would be in the interest of both parties. If the UK is willing to concede to CJEU oversight for agencies relating to security and defence, it may open the window to future cooperation in other sectors such as education and energy under similar terms.
 
Today has seen speeches delivered by Brexit Minister, David Davis, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Environment Secretary, Michael Gove.
 
Davis was in Vienna this morning where he delivered his Foundations of the Future Economic Partnership. His speech focused heavily on “mutual recognition” of regulations and standards and fair competition post-Brexit as opposed to alignment. In the speech, Davis tried to address fears that Brexit will see the UK race to the bottom on regulations as previously alluded to by some leave campaigners.
 
Michael Gove delivered a speech to the NFU Farming Conference today setting out his vision for A Brighter Future for Farming. Gove echoed David Davis’ sentiments regarding maintaining animal welfare and environmental standards while he further acknowledged the contribution made by EU27 workers to the sector and promised concerns were being fed through to the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee. He also said that future trade deals will not undercut UK farmers on standards  and that he would be looking for a deal on agriculture that would be “pragmatic, tariff-free deal with as few barriers as possible”. Looking at how agriculture has fared in previously negotiated trade deals, it would seem that the best and most comprehensive way to guarantee this would be for the UK to maintain alignment with the EU after Brexit.
 
Finally, Dr Liam Fox spoke at today’s EEF manufacturers’ conference. Dr Fox is one of the proponents of Brexit who has previously favoured opening the UK market to lower standard, US agricultural produce. Dr Fox told the conference that by imposing new tariffs on UK trade, the EU will only serve to make its own economies less competitive. He also assured business that UK legislation being brought through Parliament at the moment would enable the UK to continue the EU’s trade arrangements with third countries after it has left the bloc.
 
It should also be noted that all of these speeches are taking place against the backdrop of the failed talks in Stormont and the prospect of no Executive being formed in the near future. This makes it even more critical that the Irish border receives its due attention and genuine solutions are put forward on how the commitments made in December’s Joint Report can be met. Mutual recognition of standards on its own will not be sufficient to solving this issue if the UK is committed to pursuing its own independent trade agenda. And the question needs to be asked if the trading relationships that Dr Fox spoke of being built with countries across Africa and Asia can really make up for the potential loss of trade with a high value market that is literally on the UK’s doorstep?