Issues raised at Brexit Meetings
Introduction to feedback
I am grateful to all who attended my open meetings on Brexit and to those who have emailed raising issues and concerns. Many of the issues that have been raised are still open for debate and negotiation.
More generally there is much information in the public domain and it is far better for me to steer people to this than to repeat. The House of Commons Library, which is independent of any political party, has a dedicated resource on Brexit and a hub on the Parliament website 'Brexit - next steps of UK's withdrawal from the EU' - where papers on a wide range of specific issues are posted. Those interested can access the hub at this link www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/ . You can also sign up to receive updates as new papers are posted.
In the rest of this note I will summarise the specific issues raised with me thus far and add comment where appropriate. Please note that these issues are not listed in any order of importance. I appreciate that many of the issues raised are deeply personal and important. I have tried to give a factual note on each.
The role of the EU courts
Part of the Leave campaign suggested that the UK would be free of 'interference' by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in decisions of the UK courts post Brexit. This is not correct. The UK signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights ('ECHR') before the EU even existed. We did this as one of the 47 nations that signed up to the Council of Europe which is entirely independent of the EU and which administers the ECtHR.
I think that what was meant was the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The ECJ interprets EU law to make sure it is applied in the same way across all EU countries, and settles legal disputes between national governments and EU institutions. My own feeling is that there are circumstances in which the ECJ will continue to apply.
The single market and trade issues
Several issues around trade were raised. This is a key concern for many businesses and one on which we have intention and direction of travel but no answers as yet. Some of the questions raised were general, some more specific.
There is a chapter in the White Paper on trade with the Government seeking to prioritise 'the freest and most frictionless trade possible'. Clearly new relationships need to be established both with EU countries and with other countries around the world.
A series of papers have been written by the House of Commons Library on this and can be found at this link: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/economy-business-and-trade/
Among the issues raised with me are concerns about small business and the weight for negotiations that some larger organisations have. There was also concern that negotiations will be done for specific companies rather than more generally which could lead to exclusivity in the future. Outside of the EU there was concern that agreements with other countries such as the US could lead to the UK having to accept inferior goods and so undermine the UK market.
There was a question on the cost of negotiating new trade deals especially in a climate of austerity. Figures can only be estimated at present.
The referendum and voting
Questions continue to be raised on why we had the referendum, on whether it was advisory, on whether we should take notice of the result, and on whether we should have a second referendum. I appreciate that those who would have preferred to remain in the EU might want to do all they can to turn around the result of the referendum. However we had a vote in which a majority voted to leave and that is what we have to accept. I can see no merit in continually revisiting this not least due to the increased uncertainty that it could cause. As one who voted to remain I accept the result and now see my task as supporting the Government to get the best deal that we can.
Some suggest that the problem of the EU is a Conservative Party issue. It is not; it is an issue for members of other Political Parties and for those who are members of none. A quick trawl of the history of this will show that our relationship with Europe has been a matter for debate for decades. More recently our membership of the European Union has come into question across the board especially with new countries joining and with increasing legislation which some found overly burdensome. It is not a new invention of the current Conservative Party. Indeed, many Labour supporters voted to leave and the Liberal-Democrats had the biggest rebellion proportionally of any party over the Bill on Article 50.
Some ask if Article 50 is revocable. We are in uncertain times with a new President in America and with General Elections in several EU countries but most notably in key countries such as France, the Netherlands and Germany this year. We do not know what the scene will be in two years' time. However we need to keep pace with change and assess the implications as we move forward.
The Model for our Exit.
The Government is not looking for an 'off the shelf' deal such as a Norwegian or Swiss model. The new model the will reflect the UK's unique, existing trading relationships with EU member states. It will be an agreement between an independent sovereign United Kingdom and the European Union.
EU nationals and freedom of movement and EU Citizenship.
One of the key issues in the Referendum debate was about controlling immigration. Leaving the EU will mean that the free movement directive will no longer apply and the migration of EU nationals will be subject to UK law – which the UK will be able to set. I recognise the importance of this issue to many and especially those who have depended on the freedom of movement in their own lifestyle. The Government wants to secure the status of EU citizens living in the UK. We must remember too that this is as much of an issue for UK nationals living in EU member states whose status the Government wants to protect too. The Government wants to secure the status of both EU citizens living in the UK and that of UK nationals in EU member states at the earliest opportunity.
During the negotiation period, the rights of EU citizens in the UK and of Britons in the EU will not change. The UK will remain a member of the EU in full until it leaves.
The Great Repeal Bill and Transitional arrangements
A new Bill will be laid before Parliament which is anticipated to be called the Great Repeal Bill. It is anticipated that this will be announced in the Queens' Speech, which sets out the legislative programme for Parliament, at the next State Opening of Parliament in May.
The Bill which will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 (the ECA) which took us into the EU is expected to incorporate European Union law into domestic law wherever practical. These legal changes are likely to come into effect on the day we leave the EU. The purpose of incorporating EU law into domestic law is to avoid the 'cliff edge' that some talk of where we are left in limbo without law where issues have not been part of the negotiations or dealt with in the run up to leaving. Thus in the short term we would be under the same law as at present.
The Government has indicated that the Great Repeal Bill will contain delegated powers to enable the Government to adapt any laws on the statute book that originate from the EU so as to fit the UK's new relationship with the EU. This could be a huge task. The House of Commons Library has estimated that 13.2% of UK primary and secondary legislation enacted between 1993 and 2004 was EU related. The review of all EU-related legislation, as well as that which will be transposed by the Great Repeal Bill, makes this potentially one of the largest legislative projects ever undertaken in the UK.
Beyond this Bill I suspect that we will see an implementation period in which Britain, EU member states and EU institutions prepare for the new arrangements that will exist between us will be in our mutual self-interest. This might be about immigration controls, customs systems or criminal justice. For each issue, the time to phase in new arrangements may be different but I do not envisage an unlimited period of transition – this would not be helpful for either side.
The Environment, farming and agriculture
In one sense all of the issues raised have implications on other issues. However there are some issues that may be regarded as 'cross cutting,' having wider implications in a number of areas. One such area is environmental issues and in the short term we must remember that the Great Repeal Bill will give us a holding position.
Farming is important as a local business but agriculture, farming and fisheries are also of much wider concern in relation to environmental issues and food standards. The UK's agriculture, food and fisheries sectors are currently heavily influenced by EU laws, through frameworks such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy. Some of this has been an unnecessary burden and leaving the EU will provide Britain with the freedom to deliver its vision for a world-leading food and farming industry, as well as a sustainable seafood sector for farmers and consumers.
There are many enquiries taking place across both Houses of Parliament and last October the House of Lords initiated debate on environmental and climate change issues going forward. In addition Ministers will be working with environmental organisations and the public to develop new policies tailored to the specific needs of our habitats and wildlife instead of following a one size fits all approach for all the EU countries. Ministers have said that they are committed to seizing this opportunity as they work on an ambitious 25 Year Plan for the environment. Until we leave the European Union, the existing arrangements remain in place. The Treasury has confirmed that any structural fund projects, including agri-environment schemes, signed before our departure from the EU will be honoured for their lifetime even if they run beyond this point.
The safety of the British people is a priority for the Government. Along with France, the UK is the only EU member state with a permanent seat at the UN Security Council and with an independent nuclear deterrent. The UK is also one of the few countries in Europe to spend 2 per cent of its GDP on defence as recommended by NATO. After it leaves the EU, the country will continue to play a key role in European security and defence. The UK will seek a strong future defence relationship with the EU and will continue work with EU member states in the fight against terrorism and crime.
Strengthening the union
The Government is working with the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to seek to deliver an outcome that works for the whole of the UK. There is a Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) which will allow the leaders of the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Ireland governments to help shape the UK's exit from the EU. I think this is a helpful approach but in the end and as it stands, the UK will negotiate and leave the EU as one country.
Currently the Government is taking steps to ensure that any decisions taken by the devolved administrations will remain in place. After leaving the EU, legislation on devolution settlements will be set here in the UK by democratically elected representatives.
As promised at the meetings and at the beginning of this paper I will do my best to keep constituents informed on the key issues that are being raised with me. Some of the debates and enquiries going forward will be of general interest others will be more relevant to particular sectors. Equally some of the issues will attract greater media coverage than others and in that arena some will be sensationalised others played down. This is a cross Party issue and I will do my best to report things as factually as I am able.
I am aware of some issues not covered in this paper such as the protection currently in place for disabled people much of which is enshrined in EU regulations. Again, I offer the comfort of the Great Repeal Bill which will mean that these protections are carried forward.
On others issues too I will take opportunities to pursue them as appropriate and as best I can in the different Select Committee enquiry and forthcoming debates.
The Brexit Hub on the Parliament website mentioned earlier has specific sections on the following, each of which has subsections:
Defence and security:www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/defence-and-security/
Economy, trade and business: www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/economy-business-and-trade/
Education, science and research: www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/education/
Employment and pensions: www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/employment-and-pensions/
Energy and the environment: www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/employment-and-pensions/
Farming and fishing: www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/farming-and-fishing/
Health and social care: www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/health-and-social-care/
Transport and infrastructure: www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/transport-and-infrastructure/
Immigration and border controls: www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/immigration-and-borders/
John Howell OBE MP