Brexit deal has ‘ability to evolve’ in coming years, says former UK government minister

David Lidington, the UK’s Europe minister from 2010 to 2016, said the agreement reached between the two sides on Christmas Eve is “a lot better than a No Deal and a crash out of the EU.”
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

18 Jan 2021

Speaking in an online debate on the Brexit deal, Lidington said, “The EU will be satisfied that the solidarity of Member States held together and in demonstrating that there are some costs of leaving the EU.”

“There had been talk of other countries also leaving the EU but this has dissipated. On the UK side, it can point to the fact that it is no longer subject to ECJ jurisdiction and the fact that there no tariffs on goods between the UK and EU.”

He said, “All this has removed one element of possible future friction between the two sides but not all.”

“When you look at what the deal does, it looks to me very much like the association agreement the EU has with other countries but without the title.”

“The agreement permits it [the deal] to be developed and to evolve over the coming years if that is what the EU and UK wish to do although I don’t expect any big changes to it any time soon.”

His comments come with parliamentary procedure for approving the deal now under way.

Last Thursday, members of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committees debated the deal at a joint meeting, further intensifying the parliamentary scrutiny process for the new EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

“The Brexit agreement also has the ability to crumble away and it can be terminated at 12 months’ notice. Whether it grows into something more comprehensive or is whittled away will be subject to much debate in the coming years” Sam Lowe, Centre for European Reform

The two committees will, later this month, vote on the consent proposal prepared by the two standing rapporteurs, Christophe Hansen (EPP, Luxembourg) and Kati Piri (S&D, the Netherlands).

That will pave the way for a plenary vote, probably in February, before the end of the provisional application of the agreement.

In the virtual debate organised by Brussels-based think tank the Centre for European Reform, Lidington, a former unofficial deputy Prime Minister to Theresa May, added, “For most Conservative voters and Tory MPs the prime feeling will be of utter relief that this issue is not there to dominate and divide it has done for so long.”

“But it would be wrong to think everyone got up in the morning thinking of Article 50. Most voters want to know, for example, what our policies are on housing, education and health care. These are the things that bother people.”

Asked if he thinks the issue of the UK’s relationship with the EU will now fade, he said, “Will it go away as an issue? Well, Boris Johnson has been conciliatory so far but he has a difficult balancing act.”

“I can see him saying at the next election in 2024 that people don’t want to discuss the EU so much, but one fifth of people who voted Tory at the last election voted Remain so these have to be kept on board.”

“It will not be in the Conservative party’s interest to take a hostile approach to the EU, but, at the same time, I don’t think there is an appetite among the British or Member States for any campaign for the UK to rejoin,” said Lidington, a Tory MP from 1992 to 2019.

“The agreement permits it [the deal] to be developed and to evolve over the coming years if that is what the EU and UK wish to do although I don’t expect any big changes to it any time soon”

David Lidington, former UK Europe Minister

“No one can now say that Brexit has not happened, but we still share a lot in common with Europe in, for example, tackling carbon emissions, combating terrorism and serious crime and managing the impact of migration.”

“The US, under Joe Biden, will expect its EU allies to exercise more [global] leadership and not to leave it all to the US, so that implies that the UK and EU will still have to work closely together,” added Lidington, who also served under David Cameron.

Also taking part in the debate was Sam Lowe, a senior research fellow and trade expert with the Centre for European Reform, who warned, “The Brexit agreement also has the ability to crumble away and it can be terminated at 12 months’ notice. Whether it grows into something more comprehensive or is whittled away will be subject to much debate in the coming years.”

He said the UK had been “fairly successful” in excluding ECJ jurisdiction and not being bound by EU state aid rules, but added, “the UK did not do quite so well as it had hoped in other areas, such as  the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, temporary movement of people and rules of origin.”

“On all of these issues the UK did not get what it wanted and had to accept what the EU offered.”

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