The EU Withdrawal Agreement

2018-11-27

The recently published EU Withdrawal Agreement goes some way, but not far enough, towards implementing the result of the 2016 EU membership referendum. It remains to be seen whether Parliament will accept the agreement; it may yet be modified substantially by the government or others, in a way that addresses my concerns, which include the following:

  • it is still going to be the case that, in practice, the EU's legislation will be able to change the legal relationships between private individuals across the broad generality of the affairs of day-to-day life, on pain of severe disruptions to trade
  • the UK will not have discretion over customs and trade policy, and may have to pay a proportion of customs revenue to the EU
  • to some extent, the arrangement retains preferential treatment in migration, residency and voting rights for EU citizens as such
  • there are to be novel and untested arrangements for resolving disputes betweek the UK and the rump-EU
  • some of the measures contemplated would in effect likely be permanent, not even subject to the sort of orderly withdrawal provided for by Article 50; this likely entails that the agreement cannot be used as a stepping stone to further withdrawal from the EU's structures
  • different parts of the UK such as Northern Ireland should not be required to remain within EU arrangements such as the Internal Market and Customs Union

I have always accepted that even without the EU's Internal Market, a hard border of some kind would need to be re-established in Ireland, and that frictionless trade with the EU would become impossible upon leaving the Customs Union. The adoption by the UK government of frictionless trade and an absent hard border as negotiating objectives are effectively incompatible with the referendum result, and, to some extent, the Belfast Agreement 1998. By analogy, we appear to be saying to Scotland and Northern Ireland that their right to secede from the UK is now conditional on their remaining in close economic union with it, which is certainly not in the spirit of the 1998 agreement about Ireland, which was adopted by broad popular majorities in both jurisdictions.

This is my own view and I don't mean to represent it as the view of any other individual or organisation with which I'm associated.