As I See It
Festive cheer as hopes rise of a Brexit soft landing
You can put your Bible away, there’s no need to look up Old Testament plagues or catastrophes to get a handle on what a “No Deal” Brexit might mean for you. The EU has at last come down from its temple and spoken and the good news is the almighty shall smite down those who continue to scaremonger, for they know not what they are saying. The planes will fly, the boats shall sail and the rights of EU and UK citizens will be mutually recognised.
Yes, as we approach the Christmas festivities there is at last some good news for businesses on the Brexit front. Firstly, earlier in the week and following the realisation the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement is unlikely to be accepted by Parliament, Theresa May’s Cabinet took the decision to step up preparations for leaving the EU on 29 March without a deal. This included releasing £2bn out of the £20bn budget set aside for necessary infrastructure and technical adjustments if No Deal were to come to pass.
Now the EU, Ireland and France have each made announcements about what plans they are putting in place for Brexit without a deal – belying all the scare stories they had previously helped talk up, along with the help of so many British politicians who shamefully exploited the fears of businesses and EU citizens for their own political gain.
The EU and member states are being careful to clarify that future arrangements cannot be exactly the same, but the tone has changed from being exceedingly alarmist and obstructive to being pragmatic and committed to finding solutions.
In a press release the EU has explained that its Contingency Action Plan would include 14 separate measures for road and air transport, financial services, customs arrangements and are in addition to and separate from any other measures that member states are able to introduce themselves.
In financial services little was found that required action but crucially equivalence of operational processes will be introduced on a temporary basis while negotiations are ongoing to firm up a future relationship.
In air services there will be certainty for UK-based operators flying over EU airspace (which by international treaty was never really in doubt) and landing or taking off from EU airports, including if they have onward destinations outside the EU. Air safety licences will also be extended and on the roads UK hauliers will have continued entry to EU member states.
These arrangements are time limited and conditional on the basis that such rights will be reciprocated by the UK. The British commitment to behave sensibly in such regard was never in doubt as Government ministers had repeatedly explained.
Further announcements are anticipated but the main message is that both the EU and UK are at last taking seriously the need to provide businesses with some reassurance that disruption will be minimised as the new relationship settles down. On both sides the ambition remains to negotiate a free trade agreement, irrespective of the transition period arrangements being adopted or not by the UK parliament in January.
In a thirty-one-page document the Irish government has provided greater detail for its own businesses and those living and working in the country. There are no surprises but there should be no worries also. There never was a prospect from either the UK, Ireland or the EU in placing new infrastructure on the Irish–UK border. In reality the far more important issue for Ireland was the “landbridge” by which the bulk of its export trade to the European continent travels in, across and out of British ports and roads.
Again, sense has prevailed and there is little expectation of delays causing serious disruption. Just as the UK government is looking at providing additional capacity for hauliers in Dover and the M20 so the Irish government is making additional provision by securing land in Dublin port.
Although that might seem tangential to UK interests it represents good news for Scottish exporters of food products that face the same difficulties and can expect the same assistance and open highways. If Irish trucks are to be able to cross the Irish Sea and English Channel then so too will all UK transport. Nobody wants truckloads of rotting fish, fowl or soft fruits jamming up the highways. Likewise the delivery into the UK of medical supplies and other such time-limited goods will be facilitated.
The news on reciprocal rights for foreign EU and UK workers is also brighter, with rights of residency for those already in the EU 27 before the date of withdrawal being confirmed. The UK had already taken a lead on this irrespective of a deal being agreed and it is now a matter of ensuring the ability to process all the information from those that wish to apply for “settled status” can be handled quickly and accurately. Talk of creating a new “Windrush generation” of EU workers unable to qualify was truly alarmist and unnecessary.
The French are also now being much more accommodating, playing down concerns of delays at Calais and other ports, so long as their operators and drivers can expect the same reciprocal treatment – this was never in doubt if for no other reason than the majority of UK international haulage traffic is conducted by EU companies.
The new common sense approach to avoiding trade barriers comes on the back of the news that Japan and Switzerland are keen to readopt existing trading arrangements as soon as it becomes legally possible when the UK leaves the EU next year.
None of the foregoing is to say that No deal will be plain sailing, but at last with the realisation that effort and goodwill is required on all sides to make the change as painless as possible businesses, foreign workers and ex-pats from all countries can sleep more easily knowing that there will be processes in place to find workable solutions.
If there is a criticism it should be how long it has taken to get to this stage and provide some reassurance but as Christmas approaches let’s stick to goodwill and wishing for a prosperous New Year.