What the EU really wants from its deal with the UK

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Fancy some slideshows about Free Trade Agreements, non-regression clauses and something called EASA? Thought not.

During January officials from the 27 remaining EU countries received a series of presentations from the European Commission about ideas for their future relationship with the UK.

The slides reveal valuable clues about the EU’s thinking ahead of the next phase of talks.

I’ve read them all so that you don’t have to.

To help the two sides manage an industry that catches 100 different types of fish worth £625m a year, the EU is mulling over a bespoke fisheries partnership with the UK.

It would be based on current and existing fishing patterns. In other words, it might look very similar to the Common Fisheries Policy.

The European Commission helpfully pointed out that the EU catches a lot of fish off the British coast and the UK sells a lot of fish to EU consumers, suggesting a link between access to each other’s waters and each other’s markets.

Officials said that the UK could not remain a member of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the best it could hope for was a deal similar to those with the USA and Qatar, which would allow British airlines to fly into the EU but not between cities inside the EU.

Crime, security and foreign policy

Britain’s unconditional commitment to European security has been heard loud and clear.

The EU is thinking about an agreement to share classified intelligence. The UK could be invited to join individual projects in the EU’s new defence co-operation programme, called PESCO.

There was a warning that the fall-back for failing to agree a replacement for the European Arrest Warrant would be a 1950s-era convention on extradition that’s much less effective.

The EU insists that the UK maintains the same data protection standards and guarantees the human rights of EU citizens when it comes to the fight against cross-border crime.

Ground rules

“Governance” is the name the EU gives to a mechanism for dealing with future problems in the relationship and the punishments available if one side breaks the rules.

The main message here is the more the final deal relies on EU law, then the greater the role for the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Brussels has suggested the ECJ settles disputes with the UK if a Joint Committee of British and European officials can’t solve them first.

That doesn’t fly with the British, so European Commission officials also flagged up the EU’s agreement with Ukraine. Ukrainian courts can ask the ECJ for advice, but its rulings could lead to the temporary suspension of sections of the deal with the EU, not changes to the law in Ukraine.

The level playing field

This is going to be a huge part of the talks about the future relationship. Also known as the LPF, it is Brussels code for ways to stop the UK undercutting the EU on tax, labour and environmental standards.

EU officials admit there are few legal ways they could prevent post-Brexit UK from slashing corporation tax to attract businesses, for example.

Does the EU sign a tax co-operation deal like they have with Liechtenstein and Monaco? Do they insist on a written pledge to treat each other nicely? Or do they rely on the threat of the UK one day ending up on the EU’s list of tax havens?

And officials seemed particularly worried about State Aid – the British government using public money to help sectors of the economy with subsidies or investments.

The European Commission says this must be dealt within the Brexit deal because existing international rules aren’t enough to cope with a very big, very rich, very close neighbour like the UK.

The real deal?

The slides show the EU looking confident in some areas, less so in others. Officials are wading through precedents, but are finding the UK is too big and too close to use off-the-shelf solutions for everything.

And now a warning. These are the EU’s thoughts about some of the things that will have to be addressed in the negotiations over its future relationship with the UK.

It is not the policy for the next phase of Brexit talks. At least, not yet.

For that we will have to wait for EU leaders to agree their strategy at a summit in March.



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