One year since Article 50

#CriticalThinking

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David Martin

David Martin is Member of the European Parliament and Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee

It is March 2018, and the foreseen halfway point in the Brexit negotiations has arrived: a year after Article 50 was triggered; a year until the United Kingdom’s de facto exit from the European Union and the beginning of the proposed transition period.

The UK government has made clear its intention to leave the Single Market and Customs Union and emphasised its red lines that make a Canada-style trade deal the most likely option for the country. While key issues such as the Irish border still remain unresolved, last week’s European Council bringing together EU heads of state saw leaders formally adopt the guidelines for talks on the future relationship with the UK, beginning the process of scoping future relations.

The possibility of even replicating current trade agreements would require a great deal of time and administrative resources

In spite of the UK government’s confidence vis-à-vis its negotiations with both the EU and third countries, there is still a vast administrative challenge ahead ‒ namely, the renegotiations of treaties and international agreements that Britain will be immediately excluded from come Brexit. A total of 759 treaties and international agreements need to be renegotiated, covering 168 countries. The EU has further 878 bilateral agreements and 268 multilateral treaties with third countries, as well as a number of multilateral treaties with the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. Renegotiating such agreements will not only require a great deal of energy, time and resources, but such agreements are unlikely to be concluded until there are concrete outcomes on the future relations between the EU and the UK.

The possibility of even replicating current trade agreements would require a great deal of time and administrative resources; while the Foreign Secretary states that countries are ‘queuing up to do deals’, the reality is that renegotiations will be a complex affair. Far from gaining leverage as ‘global Britain’, it seems much more likely that third countries will perceive the UK’s departure from the EU as a loss of negotiating clout, and an opportunity to strive for a better deal. If the £350 million a week for the National Health Service (NHS) was the biggest lie of the referendum campaign, then the least accurate prediction was offered by Liam Fox, Britain’s International Trade Secretary, who described the looming trade negotiations as “one of the easiest in human history”.

That said, the challenge of renegotiating current agreements does not only apply to trade; there are a multitude of areas in which losing current agreements with the EU will give rise to complexities, additional costs and complications for ordinary people. My colleague and fellow Labour MEP Richard Corbett intends to publish a ‘long list of little things’, providing everyday examples of areas that will be affected by Brexit, from transport, to the cost of food, to the safety of our children’s toys and funding for sport.

Consider, for instance, travelling within the EU. Holidaymakers can expect to pay nearly 20% more for their trip due to the devaluation of the pound, and no deal on the EHIC scheme could lead to increased healthcare costs in case of an accident. Leaving the EU driving licence scheme would require drivers to have an international driving license to a rent a car abroad, and roaming charges could soon return. The loss of EU pet passport arrangements could also mean that pets would have to stay at home.

So here we are, halfway through the negotiations, still facing a great deal of uncertainties

Moreover, in spite of the Leave campaign’s promises for additional healthcare funding, there is no question that Brexit will be extremely damaging for the NHS. The anticipated ‘Brexodus’ of doctors and nurses from the EU27 has quite rightly made the headlines over the past year. However, other key concerns include increased waiting times for new drugs and rising costs of prescribed medicines. Leaving the European Medicines Agency could send British patients to the back of the queue for new medicines, and if the UK decides to leave Euratom, the nuclear materials used by NHS services such as radiography might become unavailable. These are just some of the everyday difficulties that will arise as a result of Brexit, to the extent that even Prime Minister Theresa May has acknowledged that whatever happens, we will be worse off.

So here we are, halfway through the negotiations, still facing a great deal of uncertainties, a vast number of agreements to be renegotiated and preparations to be made. Yet, the biggest question of all, is how did we end up in this damaging chaos?

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