Brexit no longer visible on our radar

UK’s inaction on Withdrawal Agreement negotiations raising concern, says Danuta Hübner.

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By Danuta Hübner

15 Apr 2020


The future relationship between the EU and UK is something that the public at large has little knowledge of.

The EU Working Group in charge of the negotiations put on its website the text of an EU draft legal document on the future relationship. UK citizens, meanwhile, have to rely on rare leaks or comments by British politicians to have any insight into the UK’s proposals.

While MEPs trust the EU’s negotiating team in determining the bloc’s future relationship with the UK, some of us are increasingly concerned over the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.


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The most important issues are citizens’ rights, both for EU27 citizens living in Britain and UK nationals living in Europe, as well as implementation of the so-called Irish Protocol.

On citizens’ rights, we are fortunate that the process of registering EU citizens was launched a year ago.

According to reports in the British press, around 3.3 million people have been registered. A large majority of those are EU citizens who live in the UK. However, there is also evidence of a growing number of applications being rejected since 31 January.

“While MEPs trust the EU’s negotiating team in determining the bloc’s future relationship with the UK, some of us are increasingly concerned over the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement”

Rejections may happen for several different reasons; however, it is important that those that are rejected are given another chance to provide additional documentation and the opportunity to provide any clarifications required to finalise the procedure.

The good will of the British authorities in allowing verification of all incomplete procedures, which may affect the most vulnerable groups, is important.

As far as we are aware, the Independent Monitoring Authority for citizens' rights in the UK that was promised has not yet been established.

This is worrying, because the authority’s function was to monitor the implementation of EU citizens’ rights. It was agreed that the authority will be independent from the UK government - but will that be the case?

On the EU side, the major doubt we still hold as MEPs is the need for the German government to finalise - as quickly as possible - its arrangement on the Withdrawal Agreement with the German regional authorities, the Landers.

More complex, however, is the situation surrounding the implementation of the Irish Protocol. I understand that within the implementation process there is no space for renegotiating what was agreed. So, now is the time to look at the technical dimensions of the Protocol’s implementation with a view to making it operational.

There are issues surrounding custom checks, sanitary rules for veterinary controls and the obligatory notification of state aid if linked to the functioning of the single market.

We must bear in mind the potential impact of any failure to implement the Irish Protocol on citizens. Prompt implementation of the agreed commitments by the British side matters, particularly for the Republic of Ireland.

For the sake of trust and with a view to protecting EU interests, technical representatives from the European Commission should be part of the process.

There is also a provision within the Irish Protocol to establish a Joint Consultative Working Group. However, there is no publicly available information on whether this group is actually up and running.

“The continuing lack of clarity surrounding Brexit, and whether the UK will seek an extension beyond 31 December, is just adding to the uncertainty for millions of citizens, both in the UK and in member states”

I also hope that the two sides’ negotiating teams will soon resume talks, as we have seen a divergence in approach between a comprehensive draft agreement - already made public by the EU - and a set of patchwork agreements proposed by the UK government. This suggests there are several issues where the two sides remain far apart.

The British side has also used CETA and Swiss sectorial deals, negotiated over the past decade, as possible templates for a future EU-UK partnership agreement. However, this does not make a great deal of sense. We need a bespoke and forward-looking agreement which would fit the time ahead. 

The Coronavirus crisis is, of course, making everything much more difficult. Among other challenges, it makes an extension to the transition period more likely.

A joint decision by both sides is needed before 1 July, but no one - particularly the EU - can force the British government to request such an extension. Unfortunately, we have also too often heard official statements targeted to a UK domestic audience, designed primarily for political gain.

My understanding is that not all the essential issues to be negotiated have been delivered to Brussels. Taking into account the dramatic times we are currently living in, should the British government wait until 30 June before making a decision on an extension? Everybody knows that the EU, and its biggest political family (the EPP) has already declared that it would respond positively to any such request from Britain.

Yet I also have in the back of my mind a different scenario; one where the British Prime Minister continues negotiating and assumes that, at the end of this year, the EU will accept a Future Partnership Agreement with a phasing-in period just like it used to be practiced in other agreements.

Sadly, we live in very uncertain times right now and the continuing lack of clarity surrounding Brexit, and whether the UK will seek an extension beyond 31 December, is just adding to the uncertainty for millions of citizens, both in the UK and in member states.

 

Read the most recent articles written by Danuta Hübner - Committee Guide: AFCO has enormous responsibility in Brexit process

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