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UK prepares to publish position paper on options for ‘fair and open trade’

Four position papers and three white papers on customs, trade and immigration expected in the next couple of weeks. But still no sign of one on the financial settlement.


The government is preparing to publish four new position papers by the end of next week when parliament breaks for recess. Politico reports two government officials saying the papers will include one on “fair and open trade”, which will explore the options for “mutual regulatory standards with the EU”. The remaining three papers will cover: internal security, external security, and one on science and innovation, which is expected to be published this week on Wednesday. Politico adds that a fifth paper on the future of Britain’s service sector economy may also be published before the break if signed off in time.

The paper on “fair and open trade” is likely to be the one that receives the most interest. If it’s anything like its paper on options for future customs arrangements, we can expect options that seek to recreate what we have with the single market without being in the single market. In its analysis of the papers published so far by the government, the Institute for Government said as well as seeking minimal changes for the transition period, the UK also seems to want to stay pretty close to the status quo in the longer term too. All this whilst technically leaving the EU’s customs union and single market.

So far, the government has insisted the UK will no longer be part of the EU’s customs union and single market even for the transition period. However, many believe there is not enough time to negotiate new arrangements that will effectively grant the UK the benefits of both without taking part in both. Indeed, it also seems rather pointless to want to recreate something that already exists. There is added pressure on the government to change its position with Labour, the main opposition party, now saying that it would seek to stay in the single market and customs union for at least the duration of the transition period. The problem for the government is that doing so will mean accepting the EU’s rules and having less influence. Of course, as an EU member, the UK – like all members – has full participation in both whilst also having influence over how they work.

And if the “fair and open trade” paper is like the government’s paper on customs arrangements, we may still not be getting anything concrete on the government’s vision for future trade with the EU. The customs paper put forward two options on customs the government said could set the basis for further discussions. But The Times reports that whilst Brexit secretary David Davis was in the US yesterday, he appeared to dismiss one of those options as “a blue sky idea” and saying the option for a “conventional approach” was more likely. This would mean goods had to be declared and possibly checked at the border too. This suggests the government’s vision for future customs arrangements outside of the customs union basically amounts to a hard border. So much for frictionless trade!


In any case, the EU has maintained that frictionless trade is not possible unless you’re in both the customs union and single market. And during a joint press conference at the end of the third round of Brexit talks, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the UK cannot adopt its own standards and regulations and then “have these standards recognised automatically in the EU”. He added “you cannot be outside the single market and shape its legal order”.

UK still asking for the impossible on single market

Whereas the EU’s position papers so far focus only on issues related to withdrawal, the UK has published position papers relating to withdrawal as well ‘future partnership papers’. On its website, the Department for Exiting the EU says these “form part of the government’s vision for the future deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU”. It’s clear the UK is hoping to progress talks on to the future relationship by publishing them. However, the EU is still waiting for the UK’s position paper on the financial settlement.

White papers also due to be published

Politico also reports a government official saying the government is due to publish three white papers related to Brexit before the recess in addition to the position papers. They include one on customs, immigration and trade. Meanwhile, this week, MPs will debate the EU (Withdrawal) bill, which will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act as well as ‘copy and paste’ EU legislation into UK law. A second part of the bill would then allow parliament and in some cases, the government without parliament’s approval, to change those laws. With regard to future trade with the EU, this is where the standards and regulations of both sides could diverge.

You can find the UK’s position papers, future partnership papers and white papers on Brexit at gov.uk and all the EU’s Brexit position papers at ec.europa.eu.


Image: © Rosli Othman / Shutterstock.com
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