The Brexit white paper explained

Brexit Insights
By James Barbour, Director, ICAS Policy Leadership

9 February 2017

The Prime Minister unveiled her Brexit strategy in a speech on 17 January, which inevitably meant that the publication on 2 February of the Government’s white paper on Brexit was something of a damp squib.

The white paper is titled: ‘The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union’. The form that the new partnership will take very much remains to be seen.

Whilst acknowledging the important role Brexit will play, the document also highlights the need to keep one’s cards close to one’s chest. The paper states that, in order to “secure the very best deal possible from the negotiations”, the Government will “need to keep our positions closely held and will need at times to be careful about the commentary we make public.”

How successful the Government will be at achieving this is at best questionable. Sir Ivan Rogers, former UK ambassador to the EU, recently told a Commons European Scrutiny Committee that he thinks “an awful lot will leak, Brussels is very leaky...stuff will get out, and incessantly in my view."

Immigration and trade

Immigration was a key topic during the referendum. The paper states that a “phased process of implementation” is one option the government is considering, as this method “would give businesses and individuals enough time to plan and prepare for those new arrangements.”

The need for business to help inform the Government’s plans is also recognised: “…it is important that we understand the impacts on the different sectors of the economy and the labour market. We will, therefore, ensure that businesses and communities have the opportunity to contribute their views”.

The white paper also highlights the UK’s current trade deficit with the EU:

“With the exception of trade with Ireland, the UK’s trade balance with other EU Member States is close to zero or negative. The UK imports more from the largest Member States than the UK exports to them. UK imports from Germany in 2015 were around £25 billion more than UK exports to Germany). UK imports from the Netherlands and France were each more than £37 billion, whilst UK imports from Italy, Belgium and Spain were each over £20 billion.”

Custom agreements

The paper recognises that there are a number of options for new customs arrangements, including a completely new agreement, or for the UK to remain a signatory to some of the elements of the existing arrangements.

The precise form of this new agreement will be the subject of negotiation and the Government will seek a mutually beneficial customs arrangement to ensure trade between the UK and EU can continue as far as possible, as it does now.

Specifically, on services the paper states: “In our new strategic partnership we will be aiming for the freest possible trade in services between the UK and EU Member States.”

The paper also specifically repeats this message in relation to financial services and positively states: “The fundamental strengths that underpin the UK financial services sector, such as our legal system, language and our world-class infrastructure will help to ensure that the UK remains a pre-eminent global financial centre.”

Finally, it was noticeable that the two annexes to the paper cover:

(i) Example dispute resolution mechanisms; and
(ii) UK/Ireland

Both of these are very important topics, and are sure to feature largely in the forthcoming Brexit discussions once Article 50 has been invoked. The issues of border controls, trade and movement of people will feature largely in the latter.

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ICAS is looking to its members for their opinions on Brexit. As leaders in business, finance and politics, the voices of CAs need to be heard now more than ever. Get in touch with ICAS to share your views, stories and opinions on Brexit and beyond.


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