This update was sent to constituents on 23rd August 2017:
As you have contacted me in the past on Brexit I thought it would be useful to update you on some of the summer developments. The update will focus on four key areas that have been prioritised by the EU and UK negotiators: the Customs Union and the Single Market, the Irish Border, the European Court of Justice and freedom of movement.
You can also read some of my thoughts on the summer in my recent Evening News article, here.
Furthermore, I will be holding a Brexit public meeting to discuss the implications for the UK and Edinburgh South with my colleague Daniel Johnson MSP. The event will be at 6.30pm, at the German Church on 1 Chalmers Street. If you would like to attend please RSVP at: email@example.com
Customs Union and Single Market
After a summer of cabinet splits over the Single Market the Chancellor, Philip Hammond and International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox finally agreed on a definitive position on the Single Market and the Customs Union: we will leave both. The main issue had been transitional arrangements and how long any such system would operate for after we have left. The Telegraph article also stated that there would be a “time limited” transitional agreement but this would not lead to the UK staying in the EU “by the back door”. I believe this is fundamentally wrong.
On the Customs Union more specifically the Government have published a position paper which you can read here. The Government have called the idea, which calls for complete alignment of UK and EU customs regimes, “innovative and untested approach”. However, it has already been widely criticised by EU partners who have stated that invisible borders are a “fantasy”. Even if this is agreed with EU negotiations the Government concede that this option would still involve an increase in administration costs. The EU head negotiator has also said that the plan for a “friction-less” trade deal is not possible.
It is simply astounding that 14 months after the Brexit vote we have only just reached a point where the cabinet has a unified position on the most important issue affecting this country.
Increased inflation and the downward revision of growth figures are causing real uncertainty across the country. The Government must focus on securing the best deal possible for the country and this means not taking the Single Market and the Customs Union off the table. That is the argument I have been pursuing with my colleagues who believe that this is the best approach to securing the best deal for the UK. The Government and Opposition want “the same benefits as the Single market and Customs Union” so my argument is that this can be delivered by staying in them and not leaving them.
Another key area for the negotiations is the Irish border. At the moment the Common Travel Area means that people, goods and services can freely cross the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. However, this agreement is enshrined by EU law and withdrawal from the Single Market and Customs Union will mean Northern Ireland and the Republic will have divergent immigration and customs policies.
The Government have now published a position paper which states there should be “no hard border”. This approach to Northern Ireland is fanciful, naive, and lacking in realism. The Government’s position of leaving the Single Market and Customs Union are completely at odds with their position of wanting to maintain the Common Travel Area. I am clear, if the UK wants to preserve the current situation in Northern Ireland then the only way of doing so is by staying in the Customs Union and the Single Market.
European Court of Justice (ECJ)
The Government have just announced a U-turn on their previous policy of not allowing any ECJ arbitration in post-Brexit Britain. It seems that the Prime Minister’s ideological insistence that there can be no future role whatsoever for the ECJ has been scrapped.
It is now clear that there will be some form of ECJ arbitration post-Brexit whether we are in our out of the Single Market and Customs Union. The Government therefore, should look again at the case for remaining in both.
Visa free travel
The Government now say it plans to keep visa-free travel to the UK for EU visitors after Brexit. I’m not sure how this will play with the “take back control” crowd, however there are serious deficiencies with these proposals. Effectively the Government are making it more difficult for workers to come and work but placing no restrictions on visitors who will be able to potentially overstay and work in the black economy- paying no tax. This system offers little control and burdens UK businesses with extra red tape.
What is important to remember with all these Government proposals is that they are, at the moment, only negotiating positions. The EU will have to agree to anything the UK Government puts forward.
As ever I will continue to keep you updated from Parliament, after recess