It’s good that Prime Minister Theresa May has finally succumbed to pressure to produce a White Paper setting out her Brexit policy. What on earth was going through the her mind when she planned to embark on our most important peacetime negotiations without telling parliament and the people her plan?
But the victory of those who’ve campaigned for such a policy document – including the grassroots #WhatsThePlan movement, which includes InFacts – is only partial. After all, some Brexiters such as Iain Duncan Smith have suggested the White Paper should merely repeat the prime minister’s speech from last week plus a few annexes. May has refused to say when the White Paper will be published, raising fears that it may come too late to inform the debate on the parliamentary bill to authorise the premier to trigger Article 50. That’s not good enough.
Here are 11 things we need from the White Paper.
1. Quick publication
The White Paper must be published before parliament starts considering amendments to the Article 50 legislation. The prime minister will need to get her skates on. But she has no excuse for dilly-dallying. She has been working on her plan for months and all the documentation informing her thinking must already be lurking somewhere in Downing Street.
2. Migration and single market
May she wants a bold and ambitious comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU instead of staying in the single market. Our European partners will be more willing to give us a good trade deal, the more we are willing to let their citizens come to the UK. David Davis said before Christmas that migration controls would not be part of the negotiations. Is that really the government’s position? If it is, we’ll struggle to get a good trade deal.
3. Right to remain
The prime minister says she wants to guarantee the rights of the 3 million plus EU citizens already living in the UK – and the more than a million Brits living on the continent. But, even if we agree this vital principle, how is the government going to determine the nitty-gritty of who can stay? The Home Office is already swamped with a backlog of applications for permanent residence, while some EU citizens are facing a nightmarish Kafkaesque process to prove they have been living here.
4. Customs barriers and Northern Ireland
May says she wants to pull the UK out of the EU’s customs union but cut a new deal that keeps trade as “frictionless as possible”. She also wants to maintain the common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland so border controls don’t have to be reimposed between Northern Ireland and the south. Both are good ambitions, but not easy to reconcile with pulling out of the customs union. How is she going to achieve them?
5. Avoiding a cliff edge
Brexit will be particularly destructive if our access to the single market – not to mention cooperation to fight terrorism or stand up to Vladimir Putin – comes to a sudden stop when we quit the EU. May wants to complete a new post-divorce deal with the EU before we leave. While it’s great to set ambitious goals, most observers think this one is unrealistic. If it is, we will need a proper transitional deal to avoid a cliff edge rather than the more modest “implementation phase” that the prime minister is talking about. Is she prepared to countenance such a bridging deal if needed?
6. ECJ by any other name
May is adamant that when we leave the EU we won’t be subject to the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction. But she must know that any comprehensive trade deal with the EU will need some sort of tribunal to make sure both sides stick to the bargain. Her White Paper should be honest about this.
7. National security
May says she wants to “work together more” with the EU on crime, terrorism and foreign affairs. Given the dangers of our neighbourhood – Russia, the Middle East and North Africa – this is a laudable aim. But it will be hard to cooperate more closely at the same time that we are pulling out of the EU. What ideas does she have for squaring the circle?
8. Science and technology
The prime minister also says she wants to continue collaborating with the EU on science, research and technology. Again, a laudable aim – given how much our world-leading science and universities rely on top talent from the rest of the EU and being plugged into EU-funded research programmes. But how is she going to achieve this goal when we are pulling out of the bloc and ending free movement?
9. Budget contributions
May says we might want to continue to pay some money to the EU to participate in specific programmes. Her White Paper should tell us which programmes she thinks it would be good to stay in.
10. Evidence and analysis
The prime minister mentioned no numbers, analysis or economic assessments to back up the choices she advocated in her speech. The civil service has presumably produced these. They should be included in the White Paper to the extent that this doesn’t undermine our negotiating position.
11. Parliamentary scrutiny
May has said the final Brexit deal will be put to a parliamentary vote before it comes into force. But the government has refused to say when MPs and peers will get to vet any deal, raising fears that the vote will come so late in the day that they have no choice but to rubber stamp even a dreadful one. The White Paper should make clear that an agreement is put to our parliament on the same timetable as the European Parliament, currently pencilled in for October 2018. Anything less would be an insult to the mother of parliaments.
by Hugo Dixon | 26.01.2017
Edited by Michael Prest
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