The European Union has set out conditions for approving its agreement to the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc.

The leaders of four political groups and the Constitutional Affairs Committee drew up the document which has now been endorsed by the Conference of Presidents and will be the basis for the negotiations between the EU and the UK for our exit from the community.   The document will go before the European Parliament next Wednesday to be debated.

It opens with the statement:

The motion attaches great importance to fair treatment of EU-27 citizens and stresses the need for reciprocity and non-discrimination between UK citizens living in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK.

The first item on the agreement to be debated is entitled ‘Continued obligations’ and reads:

The UK must continue to both enjoy all its rights and respect all its obligations under the EU Treaty until it leaves, including financial commitments under the current EU long-term budget, even if those go beyond the withdrawal date. This also means that the UK must continue to accept the four freedoms, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, general budgetary contributions and adherence to the EU’s common trade policy until it leaves. MEPs insist on the importance of addressing the issue of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

On this matter, Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, commented: “An orderly exit is an absolute requirement and a precondition for any potential future EU-UK partnership. This is not negotiable. The privilege of Union membership comes with responsibilities and these responsibilities mean guaranteeing the four freedoms. The four freedoms are the glue that binds it together and are indivisible.”

Next the document turns to what it quotes as ‘Sincere cooperation’.

The groups and the Constitutional Affairs Committee note that it would be against EU law for the UK to begin negotiations on possible trade agreements with third countries before it has left the EU and they also expect sincere cooperation from the UK in negotiations on EU legislation in other policy areas until it leaves. They warn that bilateral agreements between the UK and one or more remaining EU countries, for instance in respect of UK-based financial institutions, would be in breach of the EU Treaties.

Whether or not the UK government has already started trade negotiations is a moot point.  There is no doubt that to sign trade agreements with ‘third party’ countries is against EU treaties but I believe the Constitutional Affairs Committee has got this one wrong.

In addition, although the EU demands the UK doesn’t talk to other EU countries about such things as financial institutions, Juncker has already tried to move the City of London so that it is run from Brussels or Frankfurt.

The Labour Party has announced in its manifesto that it will unilaterally protect the status of EU citizens living in the UK and we know that the Prime Minister wants to do the same but considers this a negotiating point.
However the EU’s Coordinator on Brexit for the European Parliament Guy Verhofstadt stressed: “For us, it is an absolute priority to settle citizens’ rights as soon as possible. It needs to be the first issue to be tackled in the negotiations. Citizens should not become bargaining chips.”  If both sides want the same thing, there should be no problem.

Then comes the crux of the matter.  The next heading is: ‘No better status outside the EU than inside’, and goes on to say:

MEPs are adamant that the benefits of being a member of the EU cannot be the same for a country which leaves the EU. The future relationship between the EU and the UK could, however, be an association agreement, says the motion, drawn up by Manfred Weber of the EPP, Gianni Pittella of the S&D, Guy Verhofstadt of the ALDE and Philippe Lamberts and Ska Keller of the Greens/EFA) as well as Constitutional Affairs Committee chair Danuta Hübner. Such an agreement would require continued respect by the UK of EU standards in the fields of the environment, climate change, fighting tax evasion and avoidance, fair competition, trade and social policy.

‘Continued respect of the EU’s policies on environment, climate change, fighting tax evasion and avoidance, fair competition, trade and social policy’ means a continuation of EU laws on all these areas.  Sounds reasonable but that means we cannot make any of our own laws on these matters and have to obey the EU.

The last heading ‘Transitional arrangements’, says:

MEPs agree that talks can start on possible transitional arrangements based on plans for the future relationship between the EU and the UK, but only if and when good progress has been made towards the withdrawal agreement. A future relationship agreement can only be concluded once the UK has actually left the EU and a transitional arrangement may not last longer than three years.

This means that talks about such arrangement can only start if the EU itself thinks that progress has been made on the withdrawal agreement – and you’ll remember that the withdrawal agreement includes a payment of 50 billion euros. It seems that only when we have agreed to pay this money will the bloc even start to consider possible transitional arrangements, and then only when we have left can we finish negotiating such a deal.

It seems the EU thinks it holds all the cards, but the UK has an ace up its sleeve in the form of the European Community Act 1972.  If that is repealed we are free to trade under WTO rules.  Then what will the EU do?  Raise trade tariffs against us – two can play at that game!

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