7 Aug 2017
BPF Head of Insights and EU Engagement Patrick Brown sets out the background for the Brexit papers due to be published by government next week.
Next week, the Government is expected to launch two position papers relating to Brexit. One will concern the Government’s proposal to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (inextricably tied to the future customs relationship with the EU). Another will concern a transitional customs arrangement that will be adopted before moving to a more permanent arrangement.
The tone of the papers is expected to signal a step-by-step departure from the EU membership the UK currently enjoys, in a way that preserves trading relationships. This accords more with the Chancellor’s vision of Brexit than that of Brexit hawks such as Liam Fox. While it is not clear whether the proposed transitional agreement would allow the UK to strike trade deals with countries outside the EU during this period, this does not seem likely in the short term – the Commission has been very clear that it won’t consider future trading relationships until the UK government agrees acceptable solutions to the immediate priority issues for the EU (NI, Gibraltar, EU budget contributions, and freedom of movement, to begin with).
A further likely reason for the manifestation of these papers is that the UK government has been condemned for being ill-prepared for negotiations, with the Commission especially critical of the UK’s inability to pose a counter-proposal for the cost of the so-called EU divorce bill in the first round of talks. Therefore, the release of the papers is partly to save face, and partly responding to the terms that the EU institutions have set by being objectively better-organised and prepared. In releasing its own slew of papers and being open and transparent about discussions, the EU has highlighted the UK’s preference for negotiation behind closed doors.
Also over the weekend, senior civil servants confirmed to the press that the UK was considering a £36bn contribution to the EU as part of its settlement bill to cover the costs of leaving, ongoing financial liabilities and other matters pertaining to EU membership. Number 10 has been quick to deny the claims, but it does seem plausible that the government is at least considering the contribution given that the EU has said the progress of discussions is in part reliant on this.
With further stages of the Great Repeal Bill set to begin when Parliament returns from the long hols, and a transitional deal looking increasingly likely, engagement with officials and members is more important than ever. We will be seeking your views on our priorities for a transitional arrangement and for the lasting deal that follows in the next few weeks, so keep an eye on the newsletter for further details.