Written by Hamish Campbell Shore • Published 28th March 2018 • 3 minute read
It has been a year since Prime Minister, Theresa May triggered Article 50, marking the beginning of the formal process of Britain leaving the European Union. This constitutional landmark was meant to mark the inception of a two-year process culminating in the UK’s official withdrawal from the European Union. However, leaving the EU is proving trickier than some may have led you to believe, and recent developments from Brussels have stipulated there will be a transition period that will see the UK’s official withdrawal postponed until December 2020.
One year into the Brexit negotiations, what do we know, and what are the big issues that still need to be discussed?
After a slow opening to the Brexit discussions, in recent months the government has been more willing to make its objectives public, and negotiations have progressed. Last week’s announcement on the ‘orderly withdrawal’ of the UK from the Union was the most important to date and was described by Brexit Secretary David Davis as a ‘decisive step’ in the long road to Brexit.
The implementation period will see Britain retain its membership of the Single Market and Customs Union. However, now it must face the harsh reality of relinquishing its seat at the table and losing its entitlement to a voice on the decisions and policies of the EU moving forward.
The news received a mixed reception. EU fishermen will still have access to British fishing waters during the implementation period, leading to the consternation of hard-line Brexiteers and coastal fishing towns alike.
Nigel Farage even led a cohort of fishermen tipping kilos of dead haddock into the Thames outside Westminster. Many ‘remainers’ found reasons to be unhappy too; Will Straw, head of the Britain Stronger in Europe Campaign, facetiously tweeted “we ‘took back control’ today by agreeing to become a rule taker for 21 months and handing over the cash Brexiteers said was for the NHS to the EU”.
The government however, in its characteristically stoic fashion, are celebrating the deal. Brexit Secretary David Davis proclaimed “In December, we set out a shared ambition to reach agreement on the implementation period as soon as possible.
Today we have achieved that ambition, thanks to the hard work and late nights of both our dedicated teams.” The EU’s concession that the UK will be permitted to begin negotiating external trade deals was met with similar warmth from many in the government.
Of course, the implementation period still does not give us a concrete idea of what Britain’s final relationship with the EU will look like. For that, we must peer back to last month, to Theresa May’s Mansion House Speech, where she claimed both sides will have to face up to some ‘hard facts’. She said Britain would leave the Customs Union and seek a ‘bespoke deal’ which decides on an industry by industry basis.
In addition, she claimed the UK would like a mechanism for trade disputes with the EU to ensure Britain is not accountable to the ECJ, any deal would need to ensure Parliament reserves the right to pass its own regulations in all areas, including medicine, aviation and chemistry, where it hopes to remain a member of the EU agencies. Britain would also regain control of its fishing waters and would naturally exit from the Common Agricultural Policy.
The sticking point throughout the negotiations, and an issue yet to be resolved, remains the Irish border. An area that was rarely discussed in most parts of the UK during the referendum is now proving a 310-mile long barrier to any final deal.
This week, Britain reiterated its commitment that there would be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, but there are fears that in practice, that may mean a hard border across the Irish sea with Northern Ireland remaining in the single market whilst the rest of the UK leaves. An LBC poll yesterday found that more people in Britain care about leaving the EU than Northern Ireland remaining as a member of the United Kingdom, which will be little comfort to anybody in Northern Ireland.
The UK’s departure from the EU remains every bit as complex as experts said it would be, both sides have made concessions and the EU is proving a stubborn negotiating partner, as it has to many others during the past. Britain may still be unclear what its relationship with the EU will look like after it leaves the EU, but we do know we will have to wait a little longer to find out.