10 Downing street: Another desperate attempt to unite Britain on Brexit

The UK Government Cabinet in session. Prime Minister Theresa May commences the meeting with her Cabinet at Chequers to discuss Brexit. Chequers, or Chequers Court, is the country house of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. British Prime Ministers use Chequers to hold government cabinet meetings on key issue, demanding long hours of discussion. (10 Downing St. photo, some rights reserved).

Once more, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, is trying to pool together her deeply divided cabinet and country and formulate a common proposal for a Brexit deal with the EU. In the latest development, the ‘Leave’ campaign ministers and the Bremain group are reported by 10 Downing Street to have agreed on a ‘business friendly’ proposal introduced by the PM. The aim is to unlock the mired Brexit negotiations with Brussels. The separation is theoretically set to happen in March 2019.

According to a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) report from London, the proposal contains the following terms:
*The UK will accept continuing “harmonisation” with EU rules on the trade in goods, covering only those necessary to ensure frictionless trade
*Parliament will have the final say over how these rules are incorporated into UK law, retaining the right to refuse to do so
*There will be different arrangements for trade in services, including financial products, with greater “regulatory flexibility” and “strong reciprocal arrangements”
*Freedom of movement as it stands will come to an end but a “mobility framework” will ensure UK and EU citizens can continue to travel to each other’s territories and apply for study and work
*A new customs arrangement will be phased in, with the goal of “a combined customs territory”
*The UK will be able to control its own tariffs and develop an independent trade policy
*The jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will end but the UK will pay regard to its decisions in areas where common rules were in force.

Frictionless trade in goods

For one thing, the May proposal foresees unimpeded transactions in physical goods exchanges between Britain and the EU, targeting ‘frictionless trade’ after Brexit. The details have not yet being clarified, but, understandably, Britain will have to continue applying the rules of EU’s Customs Union and internal market.

In respect with those rules, the “Parliament would have the final say over how these rules are incorporated into UK law”. This clearly means the government will propose and the legislative will vote into British law all the relevant regulations which are in force today and those to be introduced by Brussels in the future.

However, this raises the issue of jurisdiction of the European Court. To secure frictionless trade in goods, May’s proposal says “The jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will end but the UK will pay regard to its decisions in areas where common rules were in force”. Obviously, Britain, in order to secure ‘frictionless trade’ will continue applying not only the EU rulebook of the customs union and internal market but will also abide by the relevant decisions of the EU Court.

Abiding by the EU Court

In short, the jurisdiction of the European Court will continue practically indefinitely even after the end of the interim period of 2019-2020. This is a rather major concession by the Brexiteer camps and remains to be seen if they really mean it. The same is true for the free movement of people between Britain and the EU.

Despite the fact the relevant text says “Freedom of movement as it stands will come to an end”, a ‘but’ follows, stating, “but a mobility framework will ensure UK and EU citizens can continue to travel to each other’s territories and apply for study and work”. If mainland Europeans can continue under ‘a mobility framework’ to be able to freely travel, work and study in Britain, the situation won’t be different from today.

Free movement of people

Under these terms, there will not be increased border controls (Britain doesn’t belong to the Schengen Zone and some controls do exist). Incidentally, if the rest of EU citizens continue entering Britain freely and vice versa, this arrangement will also more or less solve the problem of free movement in the island of Ireland. Adding to this the fact that May’s proposal maintains completely free trade in goods between Britain and the EU as today, the package may solve the so far unresolved Irish question.

To be reminded, whatever Brexit agreement the two sides decide on, it has to foresee the completely free movement of people and goods between the Republic of Ireland, a member of the EU, and Northern Ireland, an integral part of the UK, as today.

Solving the Irish stalemate

Nobody in Ireland – North or South – would ever accept or tolerate to see customs booths and a hard border being again built along the line which divides or rather unites Eire and Northern Ireland. The answer now by 10 Downing Street now forsees, more or less, the free movement of people and goods.

However, the same has to be true for the same kind of movements between Britain and Mainland Europe after Brexit. If any checks and controls are introduced in the movements between the UK and the EU it has to be the same on the Irish island. It’s unclear yet which is the case.

The City excluded

According to the text published last Thursday by the British government, there are striking differences though, when it comes to the sector of services. In this respect, the giant financial center of London’s City is the chief module. “There will be different arrangements for trade in services”, says the text agreed by the deeply divided British cabinet. This means the May government is not going to negotiate the same laissez-faire dispositions guaranteeing completely ‘frictionless’ transactions after Brexit, regarding the business the City money hub does today.

In this respect, 10 Downing St. doesn’t seem to mind much if the established ‘free passport’ the City holds today in doing business in the EU’s financial universe, is lost. Instead, the British negotiators will seek “regulatory flexibility and “strong reciprocal arrangements”. But this doesn’t compare with the absolute freedom the City enjoys today. That’s why some major financial groups of the London City, like JPMorgan and other giants are preparing to transfer parts of their activities to mainland Europe.

Not everybody is happy

As usually happens though, a conciliation agreement between two deeply disagreeing camps, leaves the heated campaigners of both sides unsatisfied on a basic level. According to reports from London, the Chairman of the campaign committee ‘Leave means Leave’, John Longworth, said what May proposes now is BRINO (Brexit In Name Only). At the same time, Chuka Ummuna, a pro-EU Labor MP descried the latest 10 Downing St. agreement like “yet another behind-closed-doors stitch up that would leave us all worse off”.

Obviously, the hard core Brexiteer part of the May’s governing party, the Conservatives, will have a lot of trouble accepting the still unclear compromise achieved by 10 Downing Street. By the same token, there won’t be any help in Parliament from the major opposition group, the Labor Party.

What about the Mainland?

Apart from all that, PM May will have much greater difficulties in selling her proposal to the mainland leaders. Last Thursday, May met with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin, hoping for energetic support. Unfortunately for the British Prime Minister, the German leader appeared negative. Merkel frigidly told May that “the European Commission conducts the Brexit negotiations”. It means Berlin has nothing to offer in support to the latest May initiative, let alone its details which are yet to be published.

In conclusion, it won’t be a risky prediction to say that this new May initiative won’t unlock the Brexit negotiations. Brussels will very probably demand for more concessions, even if some Brexiteers consider the present proposal as a BRINO. After all, it’s still Britain asking to leave the EU. Nobody in mainland Europe is available to be really sympathetic with the internal problems which the Brexit has created in Britain.

 

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