The UK government has published its long awaited ‘Brexit White Paper’ setting out its proposals for the future relationship between the UK and the EU after Brexit.
The paper, titled: ‘The future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union’, expands on the statement made after the Cabinet agreement at Chequers on the 6th July, which proposed a common rulebook for goods, the end of free movement, a joint institutional framework to resolve disputes, and the creation of a facilitated customs arrangement.
Of particular significance is the paper’s elaboration on the UK’s desired customs arrangement after Brexit, which has been perhaps the most contentious issue in the negotiations so far. Specifically, the Government has struggled to reconcile a key Brexiteer demand that Britain be able to strike its own trade deals, with its legal commitment to avoid a hard border on the Irish mainland. To strike trade deals, the UK would need the freedom to set its own customs duties, however, if these were to differ from the EU, it would necessitate customs checks at the Irish border.
The UK government’s proposed solution is to apply UK tariffs for goods destined for the UK, and EU tariffs for goods destined for the EU, which would remove the need for customs processes. When a destination for a good cannot be robustly demonstrated by the trader, it will pay the higher of the two tariffs, with the possibility of being eligible to claim back the difference from the UK where the good’s destination is later identified to be a lower tariff jurisdiction. The UK government estimates up to 96 per cent of UK goods trade would be most likely to be able to pay the correct or no tariff upfront.
The White Paper also details the UK Government’s ambition to maintain a common approval mechanism for pharmaceutical products, by continuing to participate, access data, and financially contribute, without voting rights, to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) after Brexit. For the ECHA, this would mean UK businesses continuing to register chemical substances directly, rather than working through an EU-based representative.
For the EMA, all current routes to market for human and animal medicine would remain available, and UK regulators would still be able to act as a ‘leading authority’ for the assessment of medicines, and participate in other activities such as ongoing safety monitoring and the incoming clinical trials framework. The document also recognises that the European Court of Justice would likely resolve any challenge to a decision made by the agency that affected the UK.
Theresa May had previously stated her ambition for the UK to remain ‘an associate member’ of the EMA after Brexit in her Mansion House Speech on 2nd March, however, this proposal was subsequently rejected by the European Commission. Although some non-EU members, such as Norway, are members of the EMA, they are all members of the single market, which the UK government aims to leave. The EU has yet to make any detailed common on the recent proposals, which serve only as a starting position for the negotiations. The shape of the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the EU is due to be finalised the European Council Meeting in October, subject to ratification by the UK parliament.