British Prime Minister Theresa May published her blueprint for relations with the European Union after Brexit on Thursday, putting at its core a plan for a free trade area for goods that has angered many in her party.
British Prime Minister Theresa May published her blueprint for relations with the European Union after Brexit on Thursday, putting at its core a plan for a free trade area for goods that has angered many in her party. She said it "delivers on the Brexit people voted for".
In a long-awaited white paper policy document, her government said its negotiating position had “evolved” and there was one major shift — the government abandoning plans for close trade ties for Britain’s huge financial services sector.
The White Paper sets out four areas of future co-operation:
The economic partnership between the EU and the UK
Future co-operation in areas like aviation and nuclear power
The "institutional frameworks" that will enforce the agreement
In a foreword to the White Paper, the prime minister says the agreement will "require pragmatism and compromise" from both sides.
However, in other areas, the government outlined its plans to retain the closest possible ties with the bloc in the 98-page document, including participating in its agencies for chemicals, aviation and medicines in a move aimed at pleasing business.
The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said he would analyse them with the European Parliament and member states and was "looking forward" to negotiations with the UK next week.
Ireland's foreign minister on welcomed the release of the British government's blueprint for future ties with the European Union. "I certainly think it is a step towards a much softer Brexit than some people had been advocating," Simon Coveney told journalists in Dublin.
"I think we should hopefully see the Brexit process move from the politics of parliaments to the negotiating rooms in Brussels... which is hopefully where we will get to from Monday on," he said.
By pushing for such close ties, the paper may do little to ease the anger of Brexit supporters in May’s Conservative Party, who have described the idea of a combined customs territory as a betrayal of the prime minister’s pledge for a clean break.
The document repeatedly acknowledges that the UK will have more barriers to trade in some areas than there are today.
It sets out plans for what is described as an "association agreement", with "joint institutional arrangements" between the EU and the UK.
The paper says that the UK will end the free of movement of people, but suggests EU citizens would be allowed to come to the UK without visas to do "paid work in limited and clearly defined circumstances".
At the centre of the plan are proposals for a free trade area for goods including agricultural goods, which involve a “common rulebook” with the EU.
Brexiteers believe that compromises the chance of striking trade deals with other countries. Others, meanwhile, question why it doesn’t include services which make up 80% of the UK economy.
But the plan has already sparked fury among many Conservative MPs, who fear it will lead to Brexit in name only,
The proposals also triggered the resignations of Dominic Raab's predecessor as Brexit secretary, David Davis, and ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson, from the cabinet.
The head of policy at the City of London, Catherine McGuinness, described the white paper as a “real blow”.
The white paper acknowledges there will be more barriers to Britain’s access to the EU market than is the case today, but it has prioritised maintaining trade ties for goods and details a plan for a facilitated customs arrangement with the EU.
Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said it was a "bad deal for Britain".
It did not get a ringing endorsement from U.S. President Donald Trump, who said in Brussels before the white paper’s publication that he was not sure May’s approach was what Britain voted for in the 2016 referendum.
In response, May, in Brussels with Trump for a NATO summit, said the proposal was “delivering on the vote of the British people to take back control of our money, our laws and our borders.”
Eurosceptics are suspicious of potential immigration arrangements that may give preference to EU citizens, and the future influence of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
The White Paper represents an opening bid to the EU, and it is uncertain how Brussels will respond to the detail. It has previously expressed reservations over how workable the UK’s proposals are, and fears they may try to pick and choose between EU principles.
However, EU negotiators are only too aware of Theresa May’s fragile position – and the danger of a “no-deal” scenario bringing massive economic and legal disruption. Under pressure at home from Brexiteers and pro-EU MPs in her own party, not to mention opposition parties, the prime minister will have her work cut out to get an agreement passed by Parliament.
A 2016 referendum saw voters back Brexit by a 52-48% margin. The UK is due to leave the EU in March 2019, but both sides are aiming for a transition period until the end of 2020.