Unite Brexit Check’s weekly news briefing on the UK’s exit from the EU.
Check back every Friday for an overview of the week’s Brexit-related political, industrial and economic developments.
The government is making a last-minute push to persuade the EU to publicly and explicitly state its willingness to hold talks on post-Brexit trade before March next year.
But while the draft deal signed off by EU leaders today (15 December) gives the green light to negotiations moving to the next phase, which will be dominated by discussions over the transition period, comments from senior officials and diplomats in Brussels suggest substantive talks can only start in the spring, once the EU has published its own plan for the future.
Getting preliminary trade talks going before March will also be difficult for UK negotiators to achieve because the European Council needs until then to have its guidelines in place for Michel Barnier to negotiate phase two. It is also the case that substantive talks on the future relationship cannot really begin until Theresa May gets agreement within her cabinet on what the UK’s vision of an EU-UK trade deal is (Guardian).
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has himself warned that “there are certain points that are non-negotiable” for Brussels in upcoming talks with the UK on a new trading relationship. Speaking in the European Parliament, Michel Barnier said that the EU would not accept any arrangement that could undermine the single market and its “four freedoms” (FT)
Trade unions in the UK and the EU have set out what they want from a future Brexit deal. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and ETUC general secretary Luca Visentini said they wanted negotiators to put the impact on people at work at the centre of their task, and that Brexit must not undermine jobs, rights at work or living standards.
They called for British workers to have a robust guarantee against falling behind EU workers and becoming second-class citizens and saying that the new “European Pillar of Social Rights” must be implemented as soon as possible (EURACTIV)
Concerns about post-Brexit regulation are reaching right across British industry, with many sector bodies calling for the UK to stay under EU rules to avoid the increased costs of compliance with several and different rules. A sector analysis reveals that even those bodies that campaigned for manufacturers to be “freed” from Brussels bureaucracy are questioning the implications of being so.
The British chemicals industry, for example, has complained in the past that the EU’s Reach chemicals regime was over-burdensome. But the Chemicals Industry Association now says that leaving the EU framework “would seriously bring into question 10 years of investment, as registrations and authorisations that permit access to the EU single market would suddenly become non-existent on exit day” (FT).
Wednesday’s House of Commons defeat for the government over the right of MPs to have a vote on the final UK-EU Brexit deal before it can be implemented was described by Unite as an important step to ensuring the parliamentary sovereignty so often cited as the reason to leave the EU is actually enacted.
A split Cabinet meets on Tuesday for its first discussion about what the UK’s final relationship with Europe after Brexit should look like, with reports that a decision on the “end state” has been delayed until well into the new year. Meanwhile Theresa May has been warned that she faces a second embarrassing defeat next week when MPs vote on her plan to enshrine the date of the UK’s exit from EU into law, by putting it on the face of the EU (Withdrawal) bill. Labour and the Tory rebels say the UK needs to retain flexibility over the formal exit date as negotiations reach their final stages and speculation that the prime minister will withdraw the amendment fixing 29 March 2019 as the withdrawal date is mounting (Times).
How the next phase of the Brexit negotiations will proceed is examined by ITV’s political editor Robert Peston. Transition, trade and Ireland are the key issues and Peston says the UK will make a range of demands over the nature of the transitional period.
Whether trade talks start before or after March detailed trade talks cannot really start until after Brexit happens, under EU rules. Either way, Peston says the contentious issues for the transition period are:
1) will the UK be allowed to negotiate trade deals with third party countries during the transition?
2) will the UK be able to set up a scheme to register new EU migrants to the UK who arrive after March 2019?
3) will the UK have to adopt the changing EU acquis, or adopt new EU laws, during the two years of transition?
4) can Michael Gove have his wish granted that we will leave the Common Fisheries Policy at the end of March 2019 rather than after transition? (Facebook).