The Prime Minister has finally released her long-awaited Brexit White Paper today.
Mrs May has struck a warning tone throughout the paper, warning that diverging too far from EU rules and regulations, would mean the end of the Brexit deal.
The 98-page blueprint is a codified version of the agreement reached by Cabinet at Chequers on Friday, which ultimately led to the resignations of Boris Johnson and David Davis and caused a stir amongst Brexiteer MPs.
What’s in the White Paper?
Some of the proposals included are:
- A “common rule book”, the UK will agree to stick to EU rules on goods after Brexit and there will be harsh penalties should the British government later decide to diverge;
- The UK will pay to continue participating in EU agencies covering areas such as chemicals, aviation safety and medicine;
- A “phased in” facilitated customs arrangement — in which the UK will collect the EU’s tariffs on goods from elsewhere in the world in a small minority of cases — since it will not be ready before the end of the transitional period;
- A new, looser policy on services, where the UK will set its own rules but accept that the UK and EU “will not have current levels of access to each other’s markets”; and
- The ability of EU migrants to work in the UK without a visa on a “temporary” basis of as yet undefined length under a “labour mobility” scheme.
Why the Controversy?
The plan is being met with a great degree of controversy. Brexiteer MPs in particular are furious about the the common rule book and immigration proposals.
They are furiously holding the Prime Minister to promises she made in a speech at Lancaster House in January 2017. In it she laid out 12 points that would act as red lines that the UK would not budge from, and in which the EU would have to respect, or run the risk of a no deal.
No Customs Union, no Single Market, no rules being made in Brussels – all while maintaining a friendly relationship with the EU to support trade, security and innovation.
However, the common rule book in the current plan, resembles capitulation more than control. It will mean that should the UK and the EU disagree on how to interpret EU rules, a committee likely to be made up senior civil servants from the UK and the EU will refer the dispute to the European Court of Justice for guidance. In other words, Mrs May has broken a fundamental promise to the Brexiteers, rules will be able to be made in Brussels and Britain is left in an awkward half-way house.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leading pro-Brexit Conservative and chair of the European Research Group, has said that “it is hard to see that any of this meets the promises Mrs May made in her earlier speeches. We have not known such vassalage to the continent since King John paid homage to the King of France.”
Mr Rees-Mogg went on to say that:
“The common rule book will not be common, it will be EU law, interpreted by the EU court with the UK subjected to EU fines for non-compliance.”
The stance on visas too is raising eyebrows as visas could now play a part in future trade deals with the EU. Such a move means that EU citizens may be given preferential treatment over citizens from outside the EU. This too, defeats the initial purpose of Brexit, as arguments throughout the referendum debate stressed the need for outward-looking Britain.
It appears Mrs May is committing Britain to an awkward half-way house; she can hardly say we have taken back full control when Brussels will be able to dictate our rules and regulations.
To add insult to injury for Mrs May, US President Donald Trump has weighed into the debate before arriving in the UK. Speaking in Brussels, after the NATO Conference, President Trump suggested that British people may not get “what they voted for” in the EU referendum. He went on to say that:
“The people voted to break it up so I would imagine that’s what they would do, but maybe they’re taking a different route – I don’t know if that is what they voted for.”
The US President’s comments however, will echo with leading Brexiteers, who believe the Prime Minister is not being consistent with her previous promises.