Friday 22 March 2019

UK White Paper on Brexit released amid chaotic scenes in Parliament

Anti-Brexit demonstrators at the Houses of Parliament as the EU withdrawal bill was debated in the House of Commons. Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Anti-Brexit demonstrators at the Houses of Parliament as the EU withdrawal bill was debated in the House of Commons. Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Shona Murray

The Irish government has given a cautious welcome to the release of the UK's White Paper detailing its future relationship with the EU today.

“We hope the publication of the White Paper can inject momentum into negotiations and want to see the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK,” said a spokesperson for the Tasoieach.

However they warned that “time is running out” and contingency preparations for a no deal will continue to 'intensify'.

Meanwhile chaotic shouts and roars greeted the new British Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab as he rose in the House of Commons to announce the government’s long-awaited plan.

Proceedings were suspended for five minutes after copies of the document were thrown around the chamber.

But after two years of turmoil, the moment finally arrived.

The 98-page document reaffirms Britain’s plan to remain tied to EU’s rules and standards for goods within the Single Market, indefinitely.

The proposals reiterate last week's decision to opt for a soft-Brexit though the creation of a ‘common rulebook’ which will keep the UK in line with EU’s single market standards on goods.

At its heart is the establishment of a free trade area for goods which would avoid friction at any EU-UK border.

This will seriously limit the UK’s ability to trade with countries that have different or substandard rules and regulation - particularly in the lucrative agricultural industry where the UK hoped to trade with giant markets like the US.

But it is vital in avoiding a hard border in Ireland.

Brexiteers have interpreted this as an obstruction to their vision, as it will reduce the UK to the status of rule-taker.

The document re-states the British ambition to leave the EU’s Customs Union.

However the plan establishes the creation of a similar customs mechanism designed to avoid customs checks; the other crucial element needed to protect the status quo at the Irish border.

The UK government will instead collect tariffs on behalf of the EU.

But it says it will also set its own tariffs if and when it signs trade deals with other countries.

In keeping with one of the leading reasons behind the decision to leave the EU, the white paper states that freedom of movement of people will end when the UK leaves the EU.

However, the UK government says it will establish a system for citizens to travel visa-free for holidays, business and study.

This will also include a system for allow workers access to the UK through a visa system that would make up part of a trade deal.

On services – including financial services, the plan is seeking ‘regulatory flexibility’ and would not seek to continue the same level of access to the EU’s markets.

This will also be seen as cherry-picking parts of the EU’s single market.

Britain will seek to retain some influence – albeit without any voting rights in designing and implementing the common rules and standards on goods.

It involves setting up a ‘governing body’ between the EU and UK to meet biannually  between the government and EU heads of state, as well as through other informal and formal ministerial dialogues in order to ‘coordinate responses to global crises or ‘shifting objectives over time’.

Overall Brussels will see it as continuing to cherry-pick special access to the single market with a special system for the free flow of goods.

The EU27 has been clear all along that the four pillars of the single market - the free movement on goods, services, people and capital - are non-derogable.

However, it will also be acknowledged this this is a ‘starting point’ from which the EU will be open to soften its own redlines.

The Taoiseach said today that “the EU will show flexibility,” however but did not say in what areas.

He said “everyone wants to avoid a cliff edge Brexit and both sides will need to move a little”.

A government spokesperson has told the Irish Independent the Taoiseach will now consult with EU lead negotiator Michel Barnier and his team and other EU partners.

The Irish government is still focusing on securing a legally operable backstop to protect the Irish border.

This will be contained within the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement in the event that negotiations on the White Paper collapse.

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