After the Supreme Court's ruling this week and continued parliamentary pressure, Theresa May today pledged at PMQs that the government will produce a White Paper - an official statement of government policy on its plan for Brexit.
So what should the White Paper contain? The outcome of the negotiations will of course depend on the interests of both sides, and it is impossible to predict what deal might be finally agreed. But the opening objectives of the UK will be critical for establishing the tone and framework of the ensuing discussions. IPPR, the progressive policy think tank, has been looking at what the priorities for the negotiations might be. Here are our suggestions on ten of the most important areas:
1. Timing: First of all, it is vital that the UK is able to being discussions about its new relationship with the EU in parallel with the negotiation of the 'divorce proceedings'. Otherwise, falling out of the Single Market without a trade deal in place would be disastrous for the UK economy. The government must ensure the Commission is willing engage in trade talks at the same time as negotiations on withdrawal to maximise the chance of getting a deal in place. At the same time, at the first opportunity the UK should look to get an agreement in principle from the other members to extend the two-year timetable if needed. This isn't about reversing Brexit. But it would be a necessary pragmatic solution if negotiations are dragging, in order to avoid the UK being forced out without a deal in March 2019.
2. The framework: The deal needs to deliver on both market access in goods and services and freedom of movement. IPPR has suggested that the new Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area between the EU and Ukraine could be a useful model for a deal. But attempting to simply put migration rules to one side and decide them unilaterally is unlikely to lead to the most favourable outcome. The government should be open and willing to find a suitable compromise.
3. Tariffs: The UK should aim for zero tariffs on goods travelling between the UK and the EU, as exists currently. Maintaining zero tariffs on industrial goods will probably be relatively straightforward to negotiate, based on the experience of previous trade agreements between the EU and third countries. Tariffs on agricultural and fisheries products will likely be trickier, but still feasible.
4. The customs union: Staying in the EU's customs union - or alternatively agreeing a new customs union with the EU, like Turkey has - might well be problematic, given it will most likely leave the UK out of control of its own trade policy. An alternative arrangement could be to decide not to agree a new customs union with the EU, but at the same time identify the most challenging areas for complying with customs 'rules of origin' and seek to negotiate specific relaxations in these areas. There is some precedent for this in the recent EU-Canada deal.
5. Trade in services: This will be one of the hardest area for the negotiations but with 44% of British services exports going to the EU it will be vital. The UK needs to aim to maintain passporting rights for the financial services sector and more broadly agree to continue to align with key EU legislation of key-trade related areas, in return for market access.
6. Dispute resolution: If the UK continues to adopt a large body of EU law in return for comprehensive access to the single market, as we propose, then there will need to be a parallel process for overseeing this legislation and administering the relationship. A possible way forward here could be a new joint UK-EU court with a balance of UK and EU judges to address relevant UK-EU disputes, as proposed by the Cambridge law professor Markus Gehring.
7. Migration: Migration is destined to be the most contentious area of the Brexit negotiations. Two possible compromises should be on the table (perhaps in combination). First, the UK should be willing to consider a temporary, rather than permanent, system of controls on EU migration - something like the 'emergency brake' proposed by a number of voices during the lead-up to the referendum. Second, the UK should consider a devolved system of migration, retaining freedom of movement in parts of the country (such as London and Scotland) and not others.
8. Security: On cross-border security, the UK has stronger leverage than other areas, because of the major contribution of the UK to EU security policy and the public safety benefits of continued close cooperation. The government should therefore aim for an ambitious settlement. It should prioritise a bespoke partnership with Europol that gives it continued full access to intelligence and a seat at the table to influence policy direction. It should also seek continued access to the Schengen Information System (though this may prove challenging, given the UK will be outside both the EU and Schengen) and other data sharing mechanisms, in return for upholding equivalent EU data protection rules. Another priority is the European Arrest Warrant: the government should aim for an agreement that effectively replicates this mechanism to easily facilitate the extradition of suspected criminals.
9. Budget payments: As the government seems to have acknowledged, some budget payments will almost certainly have to form part of the deal. In particular, the UK should pay into the EU to get access to certain funds and schemes, such as Erasmus+ or Horizon 2020 (or future equivalent programmes), and it should pay for the maintenance of any regulatory bodies or agencies with which it wants to participate. Finally, as a gesture of good will and as a means of strengthening trade relations, it should also put on the table the option of making payments, as EEA members such as Norway do, to reduce social and economic inequalities across the continent.
10. Non-EU trade deals: A key priority for the UK must be to retain the trade deals with non-EU countries that the EU has already agreed, including with South Korea and Mexico. To avoid going back to the drawing board, the government therefore needs to negotiate an arrangement with the EU and non-EU to retain or renegotiate these deals post-Brexit.
Of course, this only scratches the surfaces of how the negotiations might proceed. But if the government's White Paper is going to be worth its salt it will need to address each of these critical areas with pragmatism and foresight. Only with a clear negotiating strategy can the government secure a favourable deal.
IPPR, the prograssive policy think tanks, is working on how UK can secure a 'Progressive Brexit'. In the coming weeks and months, we will be publishing further research into the negotiations, investigating some of the potential opportunities and challenges of exiting the EU and setting out a progressive vision of post-Brexit Britain.