Britain could relinquish control of dozens of policy issues including banking regulation and scientific research in an effort to retain membership of certain EU agencies after Brexit, the government has suggested.
Rather than transferring ownership of key rules and regulations to Whitehall and Westminster when the UK leaves the EU in 2019, Britain could continue to rely upon European institutions for expertise - at a cost.
A Brexit department (DExEU) spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “Our future relationship with specific EU agencies, including those in the fields of banking regulation and major science, research and technology initiatives, is a matter for the negotiations.”
The position raises the prospect that the UK could negotiate “associate” membership of certain agencies and potentially contribute millions towards costs.
And the promise of a continued financial contribution could be used as a bargaining chip in the ongoing Brexit negotiations.
Our future relationship with specific EU agencies... is a matter for the negotiations DExEU spokesperson
While that outcome would be at odds with the Leave campaign’s desire for Britain to “take back control” of regulations, it would allay fears that the UK will deregulate and slash standards in order to compete post-Brexit.
But experts said the UK government lacks “realism” in its approach.
Professor Colin Talbot of Cambridge University said: “This is a complete lack of realism on the UK’s part on how far the EU will jump through hoops when we’re leaving the club.
“They are sort of saying we can negotiate, while also saying we are out of the single market.
“The EU might just say, to put no finer point on it, you’re out and you’re out.”
The issue of Britain’s future relations with EU agencies was brought to prominence by two institutions based in the UK, the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency.
The bodies generate huge economic benefit to Britain and draw in millions of pounds to their London headquarters each year.
But the EU has insisted they will need to be relocated to member states after Brexit - with 23 European cities bidding for the lucrative HQs.
Meanwhile, 42 other agencies are based elsewhere in the EU, including the European Aviation Safety Agency, the European Food Safety Authority, the cross-border police force Europol, and the atomic agency Euratom.
The centralised bodies have saved (pdf) member states billions of Euros by undertaking costly tasks at EU level.
“They carry out risk assessments, perform supervisory functions and certification tasks, identify, assess and communicate current and emerging threats,” according to Europe Direct, the EU’s information service.
But as a result, the UK has long deferred policy expertise to them, which it may struggle to replicate by the time it leaves the union in 2019.
“There are more agencies than the number of groups the government has admitted it has set up across Whitehall to look into all this,” Talbot added.
The Lib Dems suggested the government’s apparent willingness to negotiate showed “the penny has finally dropped” in Whitehall.
Has the penny finally dropped and the government realised it would be spending billions of taxpayers’ money to reinvent the wheel? Tom Brake, Lib Dem Brexit spokesperson
Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake told HuffPost: “It would be absolute madness to withdraw from every EU agency and set up parallel agencies in the UK.
“Has the penny finally dropped and the government realised it would be spending billions of taxpayers’ money to reinvent the wheel?
“Keeping common standards in place on everything from aviation to medicine is best way to avoid unnecessary disruption to people’s lives and a mountain of red tape for British businesses.
“We must ensure that pragmatism wins out over the ideological zeal of the Tory Brexiteers who want to cut all ties with Europe no matter the cost.”
The government insisted it would only set up new bodies “as a last resort”.
A DExEU spokesperson added: “While there are a number of agencies whose functions will transfer over to the UK, almost all of these will be absorbed into existing Government organisations.
“Our policy ensures that new bodies are only set up as a last resort, when the core department or existing bodies are unable to carry out the proposed functions.”
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