Theresa May will trigger Article 50 tomorrow by writing a letter to Donald Tusk, President of the European Council. The official two year negotiating period in which the UK will still remain part of the European Union will therefore start on Wednesday 29th March 2017.
Names you need to know in the Brexit arena
Conservative Brexit Secretary: David Davis
Labour (Shadow) Brexit Secretary: Keir Starmer
EU Brexit Negotiator: Michel Barnier
Labour’s stance on Brexit negotiations
Starmer was appointed in October last year as Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU and was speaking at Chatham House yesterday morning to give the Labour party perspective on how to approach the Brexit negotiations. He was one of the many who campaigned against the decision to leave the EU in the lead up to last year’s referendum on 23 June 2016. Starmer’s talk was all over yesterday’s news and was very well attended. Below I set out what he had to say in detail. If you would like shorter coverage, please refer to the links provided in the sources below.
Starmer’s 6 Point Agenda in Brexit Negotiations
When the UK were considering whether or not to adopt the euro under the then Labour government of Tony Blair (October 1997), the Treasury Department (with Gordon Brown as it head), set out 5 tests regarding the euro which focused on upholding the UK’s national and economic interests. The result of these tests was that it was decided joining the euro would not be in the UK’s national and economic interests. You can find out more information on these 5 tests in the links provided in the sources below.
Starmer referred to the above in setting out his 6 tests in his conference yesterday. The Labour party intend to use these tests to judge the deal that will be negotiated by the UK government over the course of the next two years.
Number 1: Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?
This matters for both sides: the EU and the UK. The EU look to us as natural allies in light of the constantly changing and very volatile nature of global politics at this moment in time: the rise of right wing populism in parts of Europe; the resurgence of authoritarianism in Russia and nationalism under Trump in the US. All of these issues threaten the fundamental core values that are important to us all: human rights values, the rule of law and vital social and economic protections and support for multilateral institutions. The recent trend in isolationism on the global agenda has cast doubts over the future of prosperity and multilateralism making these values all the more imperative. Now is not the time to turn away from those who share those values. We still need Europe and they need us. Trade is obviously very important. 44% of UK exports to to the European Union; our largest market. Compare that with 1.7% to India; the same 1.7% to Australia; 1.2% to Canada and 0.2% to New Zealand (all old Commonwealth countries). As such, it is the deal that we reach with the EU in terms of trade that matters the most. Our decision give up membership of the single market and the customs union is a risk and resorting to no deal other than falling back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules is not an option we should consider. Plans must be put in place and the key attributes of the single market that must be retained are as follows:
We need to rewrite the terms under the European Economic Area or create a new bespoke agreement with the EU to ensure that the economy, jobs and living standards don’t suffer.
Besides trade, there are may other areas where we can continue to come together with our European neighbours: the field of science, education, technology, research and counter terrorism.
Number 2: Does it deliver the exact same benefits we currently have as a member of the single market and customs union?
David Davis promised to deliver ‘a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits that we currently have’. Starmer said that a failure to deliver on this would fall on the government’s head. Davis may have made an error of judgement in saying this and a spokesman for Number 10 has has now said that they would endeavour to obtain ‘the best possible deal’ (Independent, 27.3.17).
It is not possible that we will be able to exit the EU and retain the same rights that we have at the moment. The Prime Minister’s assertion that ‘no deal’ is better than a ‘bad deal’ is not a good one. London’s mayor said that a view of this kind would result in ‘colossal damage’ to London’s economy and that tariff’s could become exorbitant: possibly 30-40% on meat and dairy and 10% on cars. Furthermore, under this scenario the financial services sector would lose their passporting rights.
Mr Starmer asserts that the ‘right deal’ is better than a ‘quick deal’. He had concerns over Theresa May’s expectations on the speed at which negotiations were going to take place and said that to date, she had ducked many of the questions on transitional agreements. Two years, he said, could allow for a completion of the Article 50 deal ‘if all goes well’. It could also allow for a ‘rough sketch of the outline for future deals’ with the UK with accompanying transitional arrangements. But the deals will not be complete and ready to go in two years’ time.
Number 3: Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?
Whilst the issue of immigration is an important one, any approach that prioritises it over and above the economy in the forthcoming negotiations has to be stopped.
The benefits of immigration should be celebrated but Starmer concurred that they are not always evenly distributed across different parts of the country. He accepted the need for reform and a way of making sure that the costs and benefits were more fairly distributed and furthermore, that they are very clearly seen to be so. This cannot happen if we become a closed country. There is more a a need now than at any other time to engage with world rather than retreat.
Starmer also voiced concerns that we have a duty to protect those already living here and UK nationals living in the EU. Immigrants, he said, form part of our society; it is not just about their economic contribution. Starmer said that the UK must deliver a reciprocal deal on EU and UK citizens as soon as possible in order to establish a sense of goodwill before the negotiations get into full swing. This is the issue the House of Lords had concerns over when they debated the wording of the Article 50 Bill.
Number 4: Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?
The EU has an important impact on work place standards and protections. Whilst those rights didn’t come from Europe, they were fought for and enshrined within EU law. People in the UK adhere to these laws and they ensure strong and fair rights for those in the workplace. Putting all of this into UK law will be a very complex procedure but one that must, without fail, be ratified. It is important that the government do not utilise the Great Repeal Bill (the one they will adopt when exiting the EU) to weaken any existing rights. At the moment, Mr Starmer said that the White Paper published on exiting Europe has said that these EU rights would lapse after 5 years, after which, there would be ‘sunset clauses’. These sunset clauses must be opposed and all rights should be protected without limitation, expiration or sunset clauses.
The Great Repeal Bill will be published on Thursday. It allows the Prime Minister to alter or amend UK laws by proclamation and without parliamentary approval. It is so called after the Tudor monarch’s Statute of Proclamations’ of 1539 allowing King Henry to make up the laws of the land as he went along. The statute was repealed on his death.
Number 5: Does it protect national security our and capacity to tackle cross border crime?
The EU has been vital in helping to improve cross border efforts to prevent serious organised crime. Another issue of concern is whether we will we continue to remain a member of Europol and Eurojust. If not, what alternatives will be put in place? What will happen to the European Arrest Warrant? Will the UK retain this? The EAW allows us to extradite people from UK to Europe and bring people from Europe to the UK to face justice. The Government White Paper only says that we will look to obtain the ‘best deal that we can’. In Starmer’s view, that’s not good enough. The negotiations need to ensure that there be no diminution in this field.
Number 6: Does it deliver for all regions and all nations of the UK?
Last year’s referendum campaign was very divisive, the aftermath of which bore witness to a ‘shocking rise in hate crime’. In a speech Starmer gave to Bloomberg in December 2016 (reference below), he said that there is a ‘new fracture’ developing in our politics and that the country is now more divided than at any other time in his lifetime. Theresa May, as Prime Minister, has a responsibility to bring the UK back together and strengthen its alliance. A failure to engage with the Scottish government has provided Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP with an excuse to press ahead with a second referendum. It is Starmer’s view that until now, Ms May has been ‘guarded, closed, and unable to build a consensus or form alliances’. May should, he said, be ‘open and willing to listen to differing views’. Instead, her demeanour so far has been one in which she has retreated into some sort of government mantra of” ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. According to Starmer, these are bland phrases that shut out dialogue, the result of which is an ensuing sense of dislocation from Westminster which does not bode well for national unity. The Mayor of London has also called for a shift in the government’s approach to the devolved states of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Starmer’s concluding remarks
Starmer is fully aware of the difficulty that lies ahead: the stakes are very high and he is concerned that so far, the Prime Minister’s approach has not been a good one. The above are Labour tests for the final Brexit deal and Labour has said that they will not support a deal that fails to reflect these 6 core British values. Starmer believes that the referendum vote last year was a vote on the state of the nation and was years in the making; for a long time, people had felt disenfranchised and ignored by Westminster. It is true that there were concerns about the functioning of EU but there was also a very strong sense of feeling that politics and the economy no longer worked for that nation as a whole. Those supporting Brexit in the lead up to the vote offered hope that all of that would change: that stagnant wages would rise; the skills gap would lessen; there would be a reduction of unequal growth across UK and improvements made in under funded public services. All of this was a lie and Brexit cannot fix this. If Theresa May plays it correctly, she can listen to the electorate and other political parties going forward rather than alienate them and make the problem worse. Politics should not be about dividing the nation; it should be about talking to and speaking to the nation.
Questions from Audience
Chatham House Chair: What trade off will we expect/accept? We can’t get exactly the same benefits.
KS: One in which there are no additional tariffs/customs burdens. There should be some sort of regulatory alignment. An continuing ability of companies and businesses to trade in Europe and measures that ensure any new regulations are aligned. There should be a common threshold in employment rights. Some benefits will be lost from single market/regulatory alignment and as such, we will have to create our own rules in this regard. It is also very important to ensure that rights and standards in the workplace don’t fall below those across Europe.
Q: Exiting the EU without a deal and dropping onto WTO terms would be disastrous for our economy. There is an argument for a continuing partnership with the EU instead of adopting a ‘going off the cliff’ approach. What are your views on this:
KS: We have have to fight for our future now. Theresa May’s: ‘It’s my deal or no deal’ is not acceptable. If her deal doesn’t have the collective agreement of the House of Commons, May will have to go back to the EU and negotiate different terms.
Q. Northern Ireland. How will it be possible to avoid a border and what are the implications?
KS. The EU has allowed both communities to come together. I worked in Northern Ireland for 5 years. Avoiding a hard border has to be a priority. The EU have this as one of their top 3 concerns for the early part of the Brexit negotiations. It’s a very sensitive issue.
Q. NATO. What about the issue of British troops in the EU, say in Estonia?
KS. We will have to redouble our commitment to NATO, the UN and the Council of Europe to solve issues multilaterally with our partners. This should be a matter of principle and one in which we commit to the international rule of law and to our exiting obligations.
Q. Has Theresa May now become part of the hard line Brexit conservative group?
KS. There are 2 camps in the conservative party. At the moment, the White Paper was very vague but those differences will emerge over next two years. There is an internal debate on the question of whether there should be a deal or no deal.
Q. Are Mr Starmer’s ideas and those of the Labour party actually being listened to by those who are taking us forward in these negotiations?
KS. Different leaders lead in different ways. So far, Prime Minister May has been closed and unwilling to share her plans. She had initially said that there would be no reporting back to the House over the two years and that there would be no vote in the Commons at the end of that. Her attitude was very much a ‘shield to shut out debate’. The Article 50 Bill was passed without amendment – didn’t include parliament in all of this. It was an isolationist tactic and she took a very guarded approach. Her sole negotiating powers may not deliver the best deal possible. May should build alliances and partnerships going forward. So far this hasn’t happened and it is a real concern.
Q. What is the feeling on both sides, i.e. the EU and the UK?
KS. The tone of the UK government and stance that May adopts will matter over very much over the next few months in terms of how negotiations go. May should have agreed to the rights of EU nationals staying here already as it would have created a better tone.
Q. How much money does the UK owe the EU?
KS. Stand back from this right now. It is more important to remind ourselves what values underpin the EU project: the rule of law/human rights etc. The UK has a vested interest in remaining in a partnership with the EU in the future, irrespective of whether or not we are a member. In the US, Trump is more likely to look for bilateral rather than multinational solutions. The UK must get the tone right and look at the bigger picture. That will set the tone for future negotiations.
Q. Working with moderate voices in Conservative party. How will Labour party work with those?
KS. Have so far got concessions on White Paper and this was the result of combined pressure from both parties.
Q. International student visa changes post Brexit. Protections for international students.
KS. Impact on students. Huge concern in academic communities. Harder for students from overseas to come to this country to study. Firstly, we should take students out of the net migration figures and not treat them in same way as immigrants coming to country to work and live. Secondly, wants to see a commitment to collaborate to education on research going forward. Collaborative work and research is very important and we must set these terms immediately.
Q. Free trade deal with GCC (speaker from Saudi Arabia). Will it make it more likely that there is a free trade deal with the UK? Have been trying to push for 20 years with EU and has not not happened yet.
KS. At the moment, not possible to do bilateral deals until the Article 50 process is complete. Once out at other end, then the prospect of bilateral agreements can come to the fore. One thing that’s important, need to have a serious discussion about the framework for a free trade agreement: labour rights, workplace rights, environmental protections etc.
Q. To what extent does personality of Theresa May make a deal more difficult for us?
KS. Her approach so far has been closed which causes concerns going forward. It is not too late for the Prime Minister to show a more collegiate approach.
Q. Law and finance. Banks losing passporting rights. What would Labour like to see those replaced with? Is the party taking the fate of the banking industry seriously, given that under Corbyn they have become a very strong left leaning party.
KS. Banker’s Brexit – financial/legal – all hugely important. Can’t be divorced from manufacturing and other elements in the economy. Has to be seen as a whole. Re passporting: there are a number of ways that companies are thinking through what they will do if they lose their passporting rights and a number of options are opening up.
Q. EEA (European Economic Area) transition deal? Visa waiver scheme: UK outside the EU – would we have to apply to travel to the EU?
KS. Visa waiver. Not clear yet but freedom of movement is an EU rule/concept. As we leave, the UK will have to rewrite our rules. Once we’ve exited, there will be no rules. This is why the UK government will be looking at immigration legislation over the next two years. Where immigration and the economy go together, it is very important that we continue to have that immigration.
‘The Prime Minister has to put national security first, then the economy, then jobs. Immigration or wider issues, important though they are, would never have been given priority under any other government, irrespective of the party in power. However, this is what the current Prime Minister has done. Reforming immigration should not come at the costs of jobs and the economy’.
‘Internationalism and reaching out to the rest of the world; cooperation, solidarity and a belief that we achieve more together than we do alone; commitment to protect fundamental human rights and fairness, equality and social justice for all. These values are a unifying response to Brexit. We may be leaving the EU but we are not leaving the family of the European states. Both sides, the EU and the UK, have a stake in shaping Britain’s future. We may no longer be a member of the EU but we nonetheless continue in a partnership alongside it: shared values, common aims and for the mutual benefit of the other’.
Keir Starmer yesterday at Chatham House, slightly paraphrased by me.
The Five Tests, Julian Glover, The Guardian, Friday 29 September 2000:
Gordon Brown’s 5 Economic Tests for Joining the Euro, Economics Essays: Helping to Simplify Economics, 13 March 2007:
A video of the Chatham House Press Conference can be seen here:
The Independent’s Coverage of Starmer’s 6 Point Agenda, 27 March 2017:
And the Guardian’s, the same day:
Labour party web site giving in-depth coverage of Starmer’s talk at Chatham House yesterday:
The Independent, 27 March 2017, on the government saying they would try to obtain the ‘best possible deal’:
Starmer’s speech to Bloomberg, December 2016:
Guardian report thereon:
Information on the Great Repeal Bill:
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