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#Brexit: 'We won't be trying to stay in 'bits' of the EU,' says May

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14086693619_82289400af_kTheresa May’s statement that we won’t be trying to stay in bits of the EU means that, in principle, we shall also be leaving more than 40 EU agencies (including some located in Britain) which perform tasks on behalf of all member states, including us, over a wide range of policy areas, writes Richard Corbett MEP.

They handle cross-border problems, cut costs by pooling resources, and have often become vital to effective cooperation in the field they cover.

Some oversee cross-border transport, such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).

Some test and establish joint safety standards for products, such as the Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the Medicines Agency (EMA), which is UK based.

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Some deal with areas where national boundaries are not respected, either by the natural world, such as the Environment Agency (EEA) and the Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA), or by criminals (EUROPOL) or by flows of capital, such as the European Banking Authority (EBA).

Some also have responsibilities for the application of standards set at UN level (in fields such as food, transport, fishing and intellectual property), where doing so jointly in Europe cuts costs and increases efficiency.

What are the options open to the UK?

  • Do we set up our own agencies in each of these fields, at great expense, duplicating the work previously done jointly? And how would that work anyway for ones dealing with cross-border problems?
  • Or do we avoid that expense and simply continue to follow the recommendations and decisions of these agencies, even if we are no longer part of them and don’t have a say in their management?
  • Or do we ask to remain members of them, even though we are leaving the EU, if the others will let us?

Before we start on the Brexit negotiations, we need to decide, for each one of them, what we want to secure. The Wall St Journal put it this way (Dec 2016):

“If the UK were to cease to be a member of these regulatory bodies, then the authorizations they provide would lapse, raising questions about the ability of UK firms to continue trading. If the UK quit the European Air Safety Association, for instance, who would certify that UK aircraft were safe to fly? Excluded from the European Medicines Agency, who would provide the certification to let British-manufactured drugs be traded? Similar concerns apply across multiple industries, including food and drink, chemicals, transport and cross-border data flows.

To walk away from the EU without a deal, the UK would need to have replicated all these regulatory functions at the national level and have secured the bilateral recognition for its new agencies from all its trading partners. That is a vast and expensive bureaucratic undertaking—and not one that any government would contemplate unless it was certain it was heading for the hardest of Brexits. Ministers acknowledge that they are still far from fully understanding the scale of the challenge, raising doubts about whether it would be technically possible to put everything in place before the U.K. dropped out of the EU in March 2019”

Let us look at a selection of ten main agencies to see what is at stake:

  1. European Civil Aviation Authority
  • Without a replacement agreement, planes could not legally leave UK air space to cross Europe or even the Atlantic. Leaving the EU means stepping out of its “single sky” agreement that ensures any certified airline headquartered in the Union is free to fly between airports in the bloc without restriction.
  • It would also mean leaving bilateral deals thrashed out between the EU and third countries – such as the EU-US Open Skies agreement – which guarantee landing rights.
  • Forging bilateral aviation agreements to replace all this, whether with the EU or third countries, would be extremely complex and could take years, with little likelihood of such advantageous terms as we have now
  • And this is important: Britain currently has the largest aviation network in Europe and the third largest in the world – more than 250 million passengers fly to over 370 destinations from the UK annually
  1. European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA)
  • Our world-level international reporting and monitoring obligations on maritime safety are currently taken care of through EMSA and shared EU rules on seafarer working conditions.
  • This is how we maintain Britain’s status as a ‘quality flag state’ under international law. If we lose this, we don’t lose our obligations, but we do lose our ability to meet them quickly and easily.
  • The complexities are endless, and doing this separately as Britain would put huge strain on the civil service (on top of all the Brexit negotiations), would take many years to negotiate, and would cost more.
  1. European Chemicals Agency
  • The Chemicals industry is vital for Britain. It is our biggest manufacturing exporter and employs over 500,000 people.
  • The expensive but vital process of testing, evaluating and authorizing chemicals as safe for use is carried out jointly through the European Chemicals Agency, to save money and avoid duplication
  • If we leave it, we would need to set up our own agency, agree equivalency rules and mutual recognition as well as procedures to resolve differences.
  1. EUROPOL
  • Coordinates some 40,000 cross border police investigations each year
  • Around 3,000 British investigations a year rely on input from Europol
  • Covers terrorism, cybercrime, irregular migration, human trafficking, drug smuggling, cigarette smuggling, mobile organised crime groups, intellectual property crime, VAT fraud and money laundering
  1. The European Investment Bank
  • Britain’s share of the capital of the EIB is nearly €40bn. If we leave it, we shall have to unravel assets and liabilities, and lose the ability to source it for relatively cheap loans
  • It is is the world’s largest international public lending institution and an important source of finance for investment, including in the UK, where it invested invested €29 billion just between 2011-2015.
  1. The European Medicines Agency
  • This employs over 900 highly specialised staff, based in Canary Wharf. If we leave it, these would go to another European country.
  • Furthermore, more than a third of their work is outsourced to the UK’s regulator, the MHRA, which generates one third of MHRA’s income from this business. This would be lost if the EMA moved elsewhere
  • Again, avoiding duplication of effort is a major cost saver for all Member States in this high-cost field
  • And medicines certified by this joint agency can circulate without further ado across the whole EU single market
  1. European Banking Authority
  • This employs 160 people, in London. Several European countries are already bidding for it.
  • It tests the resilience for banks across Europe
  • It embellishes London’s status as Europe’s leading financial centre, a status under threat from Brexit
  1. European Defence Agency
  • Coordinates joint procurement of military assets to decrease costs for countries and increase harmonisation of operational needs
  • Develops cooperation on cyber-defence
  1. European Environment Agency
  • Coordinates efforts to protect the environment and secure sustainable development in Europe by providing decision makers with information to shape, implement and assess environmental policies.
  • Key body for assembling statistics, evaluating impacts and conducting cost-benefit analysis.
  1. European Food Safety Authority
  • Set up after series of food crises in late 1990s
  • Delivers scientific advice on issues, including salmonella, food additives, GMOs, pesticides and animal health issues, assessing risks related to food and food safety
  • Europe has some of the highest food standards in the world thanks to this agency

There are many more agencies than just these ten examples (see list below), including the special case of EURATOM, which I have written about here.

The government has admitted that it simply can’t do some of these things on its own. While we are still part of the EU, Theresa May has chosen to opt into the new Europol rules and the Unified Patent Court Agreement, as participation is clearly to the UK’s advantage.

However, once we leave, there is no guarantee that we will still be able to participate on any terms in any of the agencies, let alone terms as good as they are currently, with our ability to have a input into them.

In addition, The headquarters of two of the agencies based in Britain would normally have to be relocated into EU countries, impacting on jobs, draining specialist skills and reducing the UK’s international standing. Does the government even intend to try to negotiate a deal whereby they stay in Britain?

Concluding remarks

At worst, leaving and doing all these things separately will incur massive economic and bureaucratic costs – the kind of costs we’ve spent the last fifty years gradually eliminating — at the same time as crippling our effectiveness both domestically and on the world stage. At best, we will have to find new and potentially complex ways to continue the cooperation which, inside the EU, has been straightforward.

It’s all too easy, as Britain is now discovering, to decide one day to quit the EU. But managing the fallout from that decision is a bureaucratic and costly nightmare.

Britain in Europe has led the world in so many areas. It seems likely that only through dismantling that leadership will we realise quite how good we’ve had it up until now. When reality hits home, it will hardly be surprising if we see people asking for a rethink of the Brexit decision.

 

Some other EU agencies:

EU Plant Variety Office

An intellectual property system for plant varieties, enabling breeders to collect royalties, thereby recovering investment in research and development. Many of these increase yields from crops, creating additional farm income and jobs. They also reduce use of pesticides and fossil fuels in agriculture, contributing reduction of CO2 emissions and water consumption.

European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit

Coordinates European cooperation in cross border crime and terrorism judicial investigations and prosecutions. Helps administration of Mutual Legal Assistance, European Arrest Warrant and European Investigation Orders.

Fusion for Energy

Provides Europe’s contribution to ITER, the world’s largest scientific collaboration, for fusion as a viable source of energy (involving the EU, USA, Japan, China, India, Russia and South Korea).

Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking

Aims to develop clean, efficient, and affordable solutions that demonstrate the potential of hydrogen as an energy carrier in order to reduce emissions and enhance energy security.

European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency

Supports navigation satellite investment. This has become increasingly important as transport, logistics, energy and other fields rely on global navigation satellite systems. It notably set up the Galileo GPS (global positioning) service and the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service, which aims to improve accuracy of GPS.

European Union Intellectual Property Office

Contributes to protecting intellectual property rights, managing the EU Trademark and Registered Community Design

European Union Institute for Security Studies

Contributes to strategic thinking regarding the Foreign and Security Policy. Acts as an interface between experts and decision-makers

Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice

Facilitates information exchange among national police, border control, migration, asylum, customs and judicial authorities. It enables law enforcement authorities to have integrated systems.

European Fisheries Control Agency

Contributes to maintaining marine biological resources through research, analysing technical measures and aggregating data across borders

European Institute for Gender Equality

Analyses and disseminates data on discrimination against women, analyses measures taken in different countries and looks at how to incorporate gender considerations into policies and the policy making process

European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training

Supports Member Countries in delivering world-class vocational education and training, to provide skills and qualifications relevant for the labour market and accessibility to lifelong learning

Clean Sky 2 JU

Aims to reduce environmental impact of air transport sector, creating resource-efficient transport. Collaboration of major aeronautical manufacturers as well as small and medium-sized enterprises. A Technology Evaluator that assesses the environmental and societal impact of the technologies.

European Asylum Support Office

Provides emergency support to EU+ countries whose asylum systems are under pressure. Supports EU countries in reaching their international obligations.

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

Identifies threats to public health from communicable diseases. Ensures all EU citizens have same safeguards against infectious diseases

European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority

Established in aftermath of financial crash in 2007-8. Ensures transparency of markets and financial products and protect consumers such as policyholders and pension scheme members.

European Institute of Innovation and Technology

Promotes geographical and cross-sectoral collaboration between innovators across Europe. Increase Europe’s competitiveness by nurturing environment and turning into marketable products and services. Develops entrepreneurship and innovation skills.

European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction

A hub on drug-related information. Provides independent evidence and information to enable policy makers to understand drug issues and take action, and focused analysis on specific topics.

European Union Agency for Network and Information Security

Supports IT network security through recommendations to stakeholders. In achieving a European Digital Single Market with high level of security, has the potential to create thousands of jobs.

European Union Agency for Railways

Works on removal of administrative barriers to cross-border rail and tendering. Promotes common European safety specifications and a single European train communication system.

European Agency for Safety and Health at Work

Coordinates European cooperation on occupational safety.

European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions

Coordinates European cooperation on living and working conditions.

European Union Satellite Centre

In the context of Foreign and Security Policy, this supports political, diplomatic and operational actions to give early warnings of potential crises in order for countries to take diplomatic, economic or humanitarian decisions in a timely manner.

European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

Issues reports and opinions and raises awareness on fundamental rights issues. Carries out transnational research to provide evidence-based expertise.

Brexit

UK's Johnson urges EU to consider post-Brexit proposals seriously

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Britain's Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Boris Johnson poses with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen during the Leaders official welcome and family photo at the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Britain, June 11, 2021. Leon Neal/Pool via REUTERS

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to consider seriously Britain's proposals to change what he called the "unsustainable" way a Brexit deal is governing trade with Northern Ireland, writes Elizabeth Piper.

Since it completed its exit from the EU at the end of last year, Britain's ties with the bloc have reached new lows, with both sides accusing each other of acting in bad faith over an agreement for post-Brexit trade with Northern Ireland.

London accuses Brussels of being too purist, or legalistic, in interpreting what the deal means for some goods moving from Britain to its province of Northern Ireland. The EU says it is adhering to the deal, which Johnson signed just last year.

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Britain proposed on Wednesday to renegotiate parts of the Northern Ireland protocol that govern the movement of goods such as chilled meats, and to dispense with EU oversight of the accord.

The EU has rejected the demand to renegotiate, with von der Leyen repeating the bloc's message on Twitter, saying: "The EU will continue to be creative and flexible within the Protocol framework. But we will not renegotiate."

Johnson spoke to van der Leyen last week.

"The prime minister set out that the way the protocol was currently operating was unsustainable. He said that solutions could not be found through the existing mechanisms of the protocol and that's why we'd set out proposals for significant changes to it," Johnson's spokesman told reporters.

Johnson urged the EU to "look at the proposals seriously and work with the UK on them" saying this would put the UK-EU relationship on a better footing.

Britain drafted the proposals in one paper that it issued on Wednesday to try to force stuttering negotiations forward on making the so-called protocol work better. Some critics say few of the suggestions are new and could largely be dismissed by the EU.

The protocol addresses the biggest conundrum raised by the divorce: how to preserve the delicate peace brought to the province by the U.S.-brokered 1998 Good Friday peace accord - by maintaining an open border - without opening a back door through neighbouring Ireland to the EU’s single market of 450 million people.

It essentially requires checks on goods between the British mainland and Northern Ireland, which remains part of the EU customs area. These have proved burdensome to companies and an anathema to unionists, who are fiercely supportive of the province remaining part of the United Kingdom.

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EU backs Ireland as UK searches for solutions to Northern Ireland Protocol dilemma

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The controversial Northern Ireland Protocol which is part of the EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement, shows no sign of resolving itself any time soon. As Ken Murray reports from Dublin, the European Commission is unwilling to back down while the British continue to search for an opening to get themselves out of an agreed document that they themselves hailed last December.

It’s seven months since the British government boasted of a great deal when Brexit was formally signed and sealed in Brussels with smiles and pre-Christmas cheer all round.

As UK chief negotiator Lord David Frost tweeted on Christmas Eve 2020: “I’m very pleased and proud to have led a great UK team to secure today’s excellent deal with the EU.

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“Both sides worked tirelessly day after day in challenging conditions to get the biggest and broadest deal in the World, in record time. Thank you all who made it happen.”

One might think reading his words that the British government were hoping to live happily ever after once the deal was done. However, all is not going to plan.

Under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is an annex to the EU/UK accord, created a new trading arrangement between GB and Northern Ireland which, although being on the island of Ireland, is actually in the United Kingdom.

The objective of the Protocol is that certain items being moved from GB to NI such as eggs, milk and chilled meats amongst others, must undergo port checks in order to arrive on to the island of Ireland from where they can be sold locally or moved on to the Republic, which remains in the European Union.

As working class protestant unionists or British loyalists in Northern Ireland see it, the Protocol or notional trade border in the Irish Sea, amounts to another incremental step towards a united Ireland-which they vehemently oppose-and marks further isolation from Britain where their loyalty is to.

Former Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Edwin Poots said the Protocol has put “absurd barriers placed on trade with our biggest market [GB]”.

A grace period from 1 January to 30 June was agreed to allow for the measures to come in to effect but such has been the hostility in Northern Ireland towards the Protocol, that period has now been extended until the end of September in order to find ways for acceptable compromise to keep all sides happy!

The Protocol and its implications which, it seems, Britain didn’t think through, has angered members of the unionist community so much in Northern Ireland, protests on the streets every other night since early Summer, have become a common sight.

Such is the sense of betrayal towards London over the Protocol, British loyalists have threatened to take their protests to Dublin in the Irish republic, a move many would see as provoking an excuse for violence.

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson speaking on The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk Radio in Dublin recently said: “Save for there being a quite remarkable turnaround in terms of the Northern Ireland protocol in the coming weeks… I would imagine most definitely those protests will be taken south of the border, certainly following 12 July.”

12 July, a date seen in Northern Ireland as marking the peak of the Orange Order marching season, has come and gone. So far, those opposed to the Protocol in Northern Ireland have yet to cross the border that separates northern from southern Ireland.

However, with pressure mounting on the Government in London from British unionists in Northern Ireland and traders who feel their businesses will suffer greatly when the full contents of the Protocol document come in to effect, Lord Frost has been trying desperately to amend and soften the deal he negotiated and praised to the max last December.

The same deal, it should be added, was passed in the House of Commons by 521 votes to 73, a sign perhaps that the British Government didn’t perform its due diligence!

Among the visible consequences of Brexit in Northern Ireland are long delays for truck drivers at ports with some major supermarkets chains complaining of empty shelves.

The feeling in Dublin is that if COVID-19 measures were not in place, the real true consequences of Brexit would likely be more harsh in Northern Ireland than they already are.

With pressure on Lord Frost to sort out this political dilemma as soon as possible, he told the Westminster parliament last week, “we can not go on as we are”.

Publishing what was titled ‘A Command Paper’, it brazenly went on to say, “the involvement of the EU in policing the deal just “engenders mistrust and problems”.

The Paper even suggested the abolition of blanket customs paperwork for traders selling from Great Britain into NI.

Instead, a “trust and verify” system, dubbed an “honesty box”, would apply, whereby traders would register their sales in a light-touch system allowing inspection of their supply chains, a suggestion which, no doubt, sent smugglers to bed with a smile on their face!

The very suggestion of an “honesty box” must have sounded amusing and ironic in Northern Ireland where in 2018, Boris Johnson promised delegates at the DUP annual conference that “there would be no border in the Irish Sea” only for him to subsequently go back on his word!

With EU Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen confirming last week to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that there will be no re-negotiation of the Agreement, the UK side looks set to make itself ultra unpopular again with the protestant unionist and Irish nationalist communities in Northern Ireland.

With British protestant unionists in Northern Ireland angry over the Protocol, Irish catholic nationalists are also furious with London after the Secretary of State for NI Brandon Lewis announced proposals to cease all investigations in to murders committed during the Troubles prior to 1998.

If implemented, the families of those that died at the hands of British soldiers and security services would never ever get justice while those that died from actions carried out by UK loyalists and Irish republicans would suffer the same fate.

The Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking in Dublin said “the British proposals were unacceptable and amounted to betrayal [to the families].”

With US President Joe Biden, a man of Irish heritage, saying last year that he will not sign a trade deal with the UK if London does anything to undermine the 1998 Northern Ireland Peace Agreement, the Boris Johnson administration, it seems, has a dwindling number of friends in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, Dublin and Washington.

Talks to review the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol look set to resume in the coming weeks.

With the EU signalling it is unwilling to budge and the US administration siding with Dublin, London finds itself in a difficult dilemma which will require something remarkable to escape from.

As one caller to a Dublin radio phone-in programme remarked last week on the issue: “Somebody should tell the British that Brexit has consequences. You get what you vote for.”

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Brexit

UK demands EU agrees to new Northern Ireland Brexit deal

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View of the border crossing between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland outside Newry, Northern Ireland, Britain, October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Britain on Wednesday (21 July) demanded a new deal from the European Union to oversee post-Brexit trade involving Northern Ireland but shied away from unilaterally ditching part of the divorce deal despite saying its terms had been breached, write Michael Holden and William James.

The Northern Ireland protocol was agreed by Britain and the European Union as part of a 2020 Brexit deal, finally sealed four years after British voters backed the divorce in a referendum.

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It sought to get round the biggest conundrum of the divorce: how to protect the EU's single market but also avoid land borders between the British province and the Irish Republic, the presence of which politicians on all sides fear could fuel violence largely ended by a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace accord.

The protocol essentially required checks on goods between the British mainland and Northern Ireland, but these have proved burdensome to business and an anathema to "unionists" who are fiercely supportive of the province remaining part of the United Kingdom.

"We cannot go on as we are," Brexit Minister David Frost told parliament, saying there was justification for invoking Article 16 of the protocol which allowed either side to take unilateral action to dispense with its terms if there was an unexpected negative effect arising from the agreement.

"It is clear that the circumstances exist to justify the use of Article 16. Nevertheless ... we have concluded that is not the right moment to do so.

"We see an opportunity to proceed differently, to find a new path to seek to agree with the EU through negotiations, a new balance in our arrangements covering Northern Ireland, to the benefit of all."

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