UK Brexit Paper backs Ukraine-style association pact

The Brexit impasse leaves everybody as a loser, writes Denis MacShane.

The UK outlined plans for a Ukraine-style association agreement with the EU on Thursday (12 July) as it published its long-awaited White Paper on relations with the EU after Brexit.

The White Paper is based on the painfully brokered compromise struck by Theresa May’s government last Friday, over which Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit Minister David Davis resigned earlier this week.

Brexit minister Davis steps down in big blow to May

Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis resigned yesterday (8 July) in a major blow for Prime Minister Theresa May as she struggles to unite her party behind a plan to retain strong economic ties to the European Union even after leaving the bloc.

Under the plan, the UK would be part of a “customs territory” with the EU, in which it would be part of a single market for goods with “ongoing harmonisation” with EU rules.

That “common rule-book” on goods has already been criticised by MPs supporting ‘hard Brexit’.

On Thursday morning, an unofficial alternative White Paper purportedly drafted by Davis and his Exiting the EU department set out its own proposal for trade relations based on a ‘Canada-style’ free trade pact.

The UK is seeking three agreements, on economic partnership, security and defence, and cross-cutting co-operation – monitored by a ‘governing body’ to set the political direction of EU-UK relations and a joint committee to provide technical expertise.

Although UK officials insist that the proposal is different to other pacts between the EU and third countries, it is essentially closest to the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.

“Precedent suggests that the UK’s proposal would take the form of an Association Agreement,” the paper states.

The White Paper signals compromise on some of the UK’s ‘red lines’. Under its proposed arbitration mechanism on future disputes between the EU and UK, cases would be referred to the European Court of Justice for its interpretation. A ‘Joint committee’ of UK and EU officials would then make the final decision.

In return for offering a “serious detailed proposal” that marks “a clear evolution of our position”, UK officials hope that their EU counterparts will “evolve” their own negotiating positions.

UK officials conceded that the blueprint would offer less market access. Services will be based on WTO rules, but the UK wants to secure a “new economic and regulatory arrangement with the EU on financial services.”

London wants to go much further on ‘enhanced regulatory equivalence’ than the EU’s existing deals with third countries, with UK officials complaining that these allow the EU to rescind equivalence at very short notice

Under a separate accord on ‘cross-cutting co-operation’, the UK seeks to remain in the Erasmus+ student exchange programme, the EU’s research and scientific innovation projects, culture and education programmes; and EU development and external spending instruments.

The Paper is light on detail on future migration policy, although it underscores the message that freedom of movement will end. The government has promised a Migration bill to be published in September 2018 but states that students and skilled workers would be able to study and work in the UK. The government will also seek mutual recognition of professional qualifications, it adds.

In the meantime, the UK wants to remain part of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) and is also seeking full participation in Joint Intelligence Teams (part of Eurojust), also discussing future migration relations. The UK is also keen to remain party to the Dublin Regulation that governs migration and asylum rules across the EU.

However, the White Paper concedes that “being a third country creates some challenges for the full operation of the EAW as it now stands”.

London hopes that the new paper will form the basis for a Political Declaration on future relations that it hopes will accompany the formal withdrawal agreement from the EU by October. That, UK officials say, will also include a protocol on the backstop for Northern Ireland.

However, contrary to the wishes of some Brexiteers who see Brexit as an opportunity to scrap what they believe are burdensome EU regulations, the White Paper includes a ‘non-regression clause’ to ensure that the UK will not lower regulatory standards.

Delivering his statement on the 104-page White Paper to UK MPs who – unlike reporters in London and Brussels – were not given a chance to read it before publication, newly appointed Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said the proposal offered an “innovative and unprecedented economic partnership”.

It “delivers on the instruction we delivered loud and clear from the British people to take back control,” he added.

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