The Government’s own Brexit position papers repeatedly concede being in the EU has benefited Britain, pro-soft Brexit campaigners have said.
Brexit Secretary David Davis has been at the negotiating table with his European counterpart Michel Barnier this week, thrashing out the first steps towards a deal.
But Open Britain, the pro-single market campaign group, has said the flurry of papers the Government has put out, aimed at making Brexit a smooth process, contain a number of own goals and, as they repeatedly concede the EU has benefited Britain, could trip up Davis’ team.
Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson said: “Despite containing enough waffle to open a Belgian restaurant, the Government’s position papers do make one thing clear: our current status in the EU provides huge benefits to the people of Britain.
“The Government’s own position papers reveal the hypocrisy at the heart of their hard Brexit strategy. They acknowledge the huge benefits delivered by a close relationship with our European partners, while embarking on a hard Brexit course that is putting so many of those benefits at risk.
“Rather than spending vast amounts of time, effort and money in a doomed attempt to recreate a convoluted, inferior version of what we already have, the Government should take the best option available to them: keeping the UK in the single market and the customs union.”
Davis, meanwhile, has accused the EU of lacking “imagination” and “flexibility” as Barnier refuses to discuss trade before the divorce bill is settled.
Brussels has insisted discussions about the future relationship can begin only after “sufficient progress” on the “divorce fee”, citizens’ rights, and the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic.
No figure has yet been put on the payment Britain will make when it leaves the bloc but European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has suggested it could be about £55bn.
Unconfirmed reports have put it as high as £92bn.
Ten own goals in the Brexit papers
1. Admitting super-integrated UK-EU trade is a good thing
Leave campaigners said the EU was dragging the British economy down, but the official Brexit papers say the UK profits from the “close and longstanding trading relationship for goods”, adding “the EU is the UK’s largest market for goods.”
While the Government is also at pains to point out that in 2016 “other EU member states, taken as a whole, exported more goods to the UK than any third country”, the papers admit integrated regulatory systems “enable the supply of safe products across the EU and the UK, as well as reduced costs, increased variety, flexibility for supply chains, benefits for patients, and higher quality and innovative products.”
2. Saying the EU helped bring about peace in Northern Ireland
“The EU’s unwavering support for the peace process has been valuable in furthering political progress and reconciliation,” the papers say. “In particular, the EU has provided support through EU regional policy, including financial contributions to the International Fund for Ireland and, most recently, the PEACE programmes.”
The admission comes during a turbulent period in Stormont which, unless the DUP and Sinn Fein parties are able to come to agreement, could result in direct rule from Westminster.
Ministers are willing to admit EU membership benefits Northern Ireland.
3. Setting out the benefits of Euratom for the UK
The Brexit papers concede the value of the European atomic energy community, saying: “The UK is a leader in nuclear safety and has a proven track record as a responsible Nuclear Weapons State, dedicated to ensuring the non-proliferation of nuclear materials.”
It goes on: ”[The UK] enjoys a wide-ranging and successful partnership with the EU in the civil nuclear sector, which is rooted in a strong and mutually beneficial trade relationship. Its world-class expertise in nuclear research and development has put it at the heart of wider EU collaboration to develop the clean energy of the future.”
4. Admitting UK-EU trade boosts both economies
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told David Davis the UK was “nostalgic” for a time before the Brexit vote.
Reading the position paper on trade, you can see his point: “As a bloc the EU accounts for the largest proportion of UK trade. In 2016, UK imports from and exports to the EU totalled £553bn, with over 200,000 UK businesses trading with the EU.
“Furthermore, UK-EU trade is an important contributor to the economy in all parts of the United Kingdom. We want to ensure that our future arrangements with the EU maximise our future trade with Europe, including through integrated supply chains.”
5. Admitting future cooperation on civil judicial matters is vital
How will cross-border civil cases be settled in future? The UK Government Brexit papers suggest they are happy with the status quo.
“Existing international conventions can provide for rules in some areas, but they would not generally provide the more sophisticated and effective interaction, based on mutual trust between legal systems, that currently benefits both EU and UK business, families and individual litigants,” the papers read.
They go on: “The optimum outcome for both sides will be an agreement reflecting our close existing relationship, where litigating a cross-border case involving UK and EU parties under civil law, wherever it might take place, will be easier, cheaper and more efficient for all involved.”
6. Saying UK-EU data flows are ‘vital’ to the UK
UK businesses and law enforcement agencies rely on EU data and its easy flow across the EU. The papers make it plain how much the UK needs EU cooperation.
“Estimates suggest that around 43% of all large EU digital companies are started in the UK, and that 75% of the UK’s cross-border data flows are with EU countries,” the Brexit papers read. “Analysis indicates that the UK has the largest internet economy as a percentage of GDP of all the G20 countries, and has an economy dominated by service sectors in which data and data flows are increasingly vital.”
It goes on: “The UK accounted for 11.5% of global cross-border data flows in 2015, compared with 3.9% of global GDP and 0.9% of global population, but the value of data flows to the whole economy and the whole of society are greater still.”
7. Admitting the need for frictionless trade in Northern Ireland
How will the UK Government, propped up by the DUP, ensure Northern Ireland’s cross-border trade with Ireland does not suffer?
Again, the papers Theresa May has published do not push for a change and instead ask for more of the same.
“Citizens rely on being able to cross the border freely with goods for their own personal use,” it says in the Brexit papers. “Current rules mean they do not have to make declarations or pay duties on these goods at the border.
“The deeply integrated nature of trade, both domestically between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and across the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, highlights why the UK is prioritising finding a solution that protects businesses’ ability to access these important markets.”
8. Conceding mutual legal recognition benefits the UK
As it stands, the UK is part of the EU’s civil judicial cooperation system and, once again, the Government see this as a positive for Britain.
“This framework provides predictability and certainty for citizens and businesses from the EU and the UK about the laws that apply to their cross-border relationships, the courts that would be responsible, and their ability to rely on decisions from one country’s courts in another state,” the papers read.
“It plays an important role in enabling businesses to trade with confidence across borders, providing legal certainty in cross-border transactions and avoiding delays and excessive costs where individual and family rights need to be protected in cross-border situations.”
9. Setting out the invisible border’s contribution to the Northern Irish peace process
The papers set out how the invisible border in Northern Ireland has been a key part of the peace process.
“The invisible and open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is, as the Irish Government has said, arguably “the most tangible symbol of the peace process”, the papers say, before concluding: “As the Irish Government has said, “the disappearance of physical border crossings and checkpoints is both a symbol of, and a dividend from, the success of the peace process”.”
10. Praising the influence the UK has within the Court of Justice of the EU
Taking back control of the UK's sovereignty was a key plank of the Leave campaign.
In the Brexit papers, however, the Government said the UK currently has a "particular relationship" with the CJEU and admits that, as a result, this means the UK is "afforded" the right to make representations and nominate a judge.
Outside of the EU, the UK may be subject to CJEU rulings but won't have any influence.
The papers add: “This means, for example, that the UK nominates a judge to both the Court of Justice and the General Court, and that there is also a UK Advocate General at the CJEU. It also means that lawyers registered in the UK are afforded the right to appear before the CJEU.”