UK parliament acts to prevent a no-deal Brexit

Updated September 4th, 2019

MPs, including 21 Conservative Party rebels, voted 328 to 301 to take control of the House of Commons agenda, which will allow them to bring a bill to request the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to ask for a delay to Brexit – beyond the October 31st exit date. This is likely to be countered today with a bill to force through a general election.

However, under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (2011) there must be a two thirds majority of MPs in favour, and it is highly unlikely that MPs will vote for this.

There are two possible reasons for this: firstly, the opposition and rebel MPs are worried that the election date will be set after the EU exit date, thereby allowing the UK to leave the EU by default. Secondly, many MPs will be deeply worried about their own position and will not take the risk of losing their seat at a general election. For many, backing the deal negotiated by former Prime Minister, Theresa May – already rejected three times – is beginning to re-emerge as a possible way forward.


UK parliament to be suspended

Updated August 28th 2019

The UK government has asked the Queen to suspend Parliament from September 10th until October 14th, with the Queen’s Speech taking place immediately after the suspension is lifted.

This comes a day after opposition parties joined forces to find legislative ways to stop a no-deal Brexit. The government is insisting that the suspension is to allow the new administration to set out their plans ahead of October 31st – the date when the UK leaves the EU.


Former Chancellor Hammond – a no-deal would betray the referendum result

In his first comments since leaving office, former UK Chancellor Philip Hammond, writing in The Times, has claimed that leaving without a deal would be a “betrayal” of the 2016 referendum result.

He goes on to suggest that the government’s “move from demanding changes to the backstop to demanding its total removal is a pivot from a tough negotiating stance to a wrecking one”. The article comes amid rumours that the conservative party is gearing up for a general election, with many now seeing a change in the composition of parliament as the only way out of the current impasse. A vote of no confidence in the government is likely to be called as soon as the House of Commons returns from its summer recess on September 3rd.

Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement failed to get through parliament three times, and following her exit from office, new Prime Minister Boris Johnson has committed to leaving the EU “do or die”. With just 78 days to go to until the UK leaves the EU neither side looks like it is prepared to change its stance towards the controversial Irish backstop, with sides ramping up preparations for a no-deal exit on October 31st.

Prime Minister Theresa May to stand down on June 7th

Updated May 24th, 2019

UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced her resignation today, and will leave office on June 7th, 2019.

With talks between her Government and the official opposition breaking down, and the decision not to bring the EU Withdrawal Bill before parliament for a fourth time, Mrs May finally conceded that a new prime minister was required. How much difference this makes to the Brexit process remains to be seen. A new prime minister will inherit the same parliament, and a change of prime minister will not alter the voting arithmetic.

Talks between the UK government and opposition break down

Updated May 17th, 2019

Talks between the UK government and the Labour opposition have broken down. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, confirmed the break up of the sixth weeks of talks in a letter to the Prime Minister. Discussion will now focus on the procedure for putting a number of options to parliament in the attempt to obtain a consensus and break the Brexit impasse.

Talks between the UK government and opposition continue

Updated April 9th, 2019

As talks between the UK government and the Labour opposition continue, UK PM Theresa May will visit Germany and France to discuss her latest request for a delay to Brexit until June 30th. This follows the UK’s parliament’s failure to establish any clear majority view on what form of Brexit the UK should adopt.

Talks between the government and Labour party are likely to focus on discussions over a customs union, which could see the UK moving towards a ‘softer’ version of Brexit.

Result of indicative votes (number 2)

Updated April 1st, 2019

Updated March 29th 2019

Vote on Withdrawal Agreement

Result of Indicative Vote (number 1)

Updated March 28th 2019

MPs have voted on the ‘first round’ of indicative votes, with none of the options put to the vote achieving a majority. It is likely that the deal agreed by Mrs May will now be put back to the House of Commons before the second round of voting – where the least supported options will drop out.

‘Indicative votes’ are designed to provide the UK Parliament with an indication of what Brexit option there might be that could achieve a majority in the House of Commons. Given that no single option achieved a majority the process can hardly be seen as a success, though supporters of indicative votes (to break the deadlock) argue that it does provides useful feedback to MPs and the UK government in terms of how to move the process forward.

Prime Minister May writes to Donald Tusk to seek Brexit delay

Prime Minister May has written formally to European Council President Donald Tusk to request a short extension to Article 50 – the legal mechanism that takes the UK out of the EU.

Brexit extension request

Download the pdf

May’s revised deal defeated

Updated March 12th, 2019

Parliament voted overwhelming against Mrs May’s Brexit deal by 242 votes in favour and 391 against.

Parliament will now vote on whether the UK should leave with or without a deal. Mrs May will give her MPs a ‘free vote’ on this.


Mrs May returned from Strasbourg yesterday (March 11th, 2019) with agreement on two ‘complementary’ documents regarding the contentious Irish ‘backstop’ and with a third which clarifies the UK government’s understanding of how the backstop arrangement can be ended.

The first document is a new legally binding ‘joint’ instrument which could be implemented in the event of a dispute regarding the UK remaining in the backstop indefinitely. In the event of a dispute the matter will be put before an arbitration panel.

The second document adds further clarity to the future relationship between the UK and EU, confirming a commitment to replace the backstop with ‘alternative arrangements’ by December 2020.

MPs will now vote on the ‘improved’ deal later today. This will follow a cabinet meeting, and a meeting of the panel of Eurosceptic lawyers who will scrutinise the legal changes. The UK’s Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, will publish his advice to parliament this morning.


May looks to re-open Withdrawal Agreement

Updated, January 29th, 2019

With exactly 2 months to go until the UK exits the EU, and after 2 years of negotiations, the UK Prime Minister will go back to Brussels to renegotiate the ‘Irish Backstop‘.

This follows the overwhelming rejection of the current deal by parliament on January 15th.

The amendment that the government supports is that of Sir Graham Brady (the ‘Brady amendment’) which requires that the government looks to negotiate ‘alternative arrangements’ to the Irish backstop.

Mrs May confirmed that MPs will have a second vote on February 14th.

Parliament is voting on the various amendments, all of which are non-binding on the government.

Amendments which have attempted to change the procedures of the House of Commons to enable MPs take more control of the Brexit process have failed to achieve a majority.

However, the Spelman/Dromey Amendment, which rejects a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, did receive a majority. Although this is only advisory, it clearly demonstrates to the UK government that MPs wants a some form of deal, with a majority of 318 to 310.

The Brady Amendment, calling for the government to seek ‘alternative arrangements’ to solve the Irish border issue, was backed by MPs – with 317 voting for, and 301 voting against.

Parliament rejects Brexit Withdrawal Agreement

As widely expected, MPs decisively rejected the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU – with 202 voting for, and 432 voting against.

As it stands, there is not a clear majority in parliament for any specific alternative plan. Mrs May faces a vote of no confidence tomorrow (Wednesday, 16th January) and has until Monday to present an alternative plan.


Decision day for the UK Parliament

MPs vote today, January 15th, 2019, on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, with most experts expecting it to fail by between 100 and 200 votes.

Mrs May will then make a statement outlining the government’s response to the defeat. Whether a ‘vote of confidence’ against her is called immediately is less clear as it is likely that she would win this vote. Mrs May then has until Monday, January 21st, to come up with a revised plan.

EU Presidents release a joint letter on the Withdrawal Agreement

EU presidents release a joint letter on the Withdrawal Agreement ahead of meaningful vote, scheduled for January 15th.

The European Commission president Mr Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk release a letter which provides ‘clarification’ on the Withdrawal Agreement.

Without such clarification it is highly doubtful that the agreement would ever be ratified by the UK parliament, and even with it the likelihood remains that it will be voted down.

MPs to vote on January 15th

Updated January 8th, 2019

MPs will now vote on the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration regarding the future trading relationship with the EU on Tuesday, January 15th.

This will follow 5 days of debate in the House of Commons, which begins on Wednesday, January 9th.


Latest – no progress made on Irish backstop wording

Updated December 14th, 2018

UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, may have won her confidence vote on Tuesday, which was triggered when she delayed the ‘meaningful vote’ on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, but, if anything, her position remains unchanged, and perhaps even weakened.  For her critics, a positive vote of 200 Conservative for and 117 against was not a ringing endorsement.

There is a view emerging that it might have been better to have gone ahead with the ‘meaningful’ vote, and lost, and then gone to Brussels with concrete evidence about the strength of resistance to the Withdrawal Agreement across all parties (though, of course, for entirely different reasons!).  Although supporters of the PM could breath a small sigh of relief, over a third of her party’s MPs voted against her, which can only be interpreted as a lack of confidence in her ability to achieve an improved Brexit deal.

Indeed, EU leaders and negotiators have made it very clear that the existing Withdrawal Agreement cannot now be renegotiated.

Irish backstop clarification?

Mrs May went back to Brussels to attend the EU summit where she sought further ‘clarification’ on the temporary nature of the Irish backstop – even with this clarification it still remains unlikely that she would win any first vote in Parliament – delayed from December 11th.

What happened to ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’?

At the start of the Brexit negotiations many in the UK (wrongly) assumed that the repeated reference to ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ would hold throughout all the negotiations. Critics of Mrs May’s approach (and that of her negotiating team) believe that more should and could have been done, at the very least, to push the EU to include more meaningful detail in the Political Declaration – which governs the future relationship – before finalising the Withdrawal Agreement.

EU negotiators were clear at the start that this would not happen – and that trade negotiations could only really start once the UK became a non-member – leading many in the UK to the view that much more could have been done to resist this when talks began.

When she left for Brussels, Mrs May must have been hopeful that she could obtain some meaningful changes to the text ‘relating to’ the Irish backstop, perhaps through a so-called ‘side document’.  We now know that this has been ruled out by the EU. Indeed, the EU, reportedly* under pressure from the Irish and Spanish, have removed some ‘helpful’ elements from a draft summit communiqué which promised to provide more assurances that the Irish backstop would be temporary. (*Faisal Islam, Sky News).

Best endeavours?

One key issue that many regard as a significant sticking point in terms of the legal text is the use of ‘best endeavours’ clauses. Generally, in contractual agreements, these clauses are significantly weakened when the objective of the agreement is not absolutely clear. This would seem to be the major stumbling block preventing further progress as it is not absolutely clear what the objective of the UK Government is – at least this is the view of the EU. For many in Europe, and indeed in the UK, ‘Brexit means Brexit’ simply does not tick that box!


Without more clarity, the DUP will not support the government and a no-deal-World Trade terms-Brexit increasingly becomes the most likely outcome.

For Europe, with its acceptance and understanding of ‘government by coalition’, and, indeed, its long established use of referendums (yes, that is the correct plural of referendum!), the unfolding drama in the House of Commons must be bemusing if not entertaining. As many have commented, ‘representative’ democracy – as practiced in the UK – and decision-making via the use of binary referendums are not comfortable ‘bed-fellows’ at the best of times, let alone when facing such a significant point in UK history.

Perhaps it has never been a better time to return to consensus politics. Surely more work must now be done to obtain some level of consensus between the parties and various factions in the UK. Certainly before Mrs May returns again to Brussels.


For an interesting look at the legal issues surrounding the Irish backstop, read Martin Howe’s comments in Lawyer for Britain.


May faces no confidence vote by Tory MPs

The vote by Conservative MPs, which will be by ‘secret ballot’, will take place between 18.00 GMT and 20.00 GMT today (December 12th), with the result expected by 21.00 GMT.

Mrs May requires the votes of 158 members to continue as leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister, and cannot, according to party rules, be challenged again for 12 months.

If she falls short, she will step aside and a leadership contest will be begin. Technically, while all Mrs May requires is a simple majority of 158 votes, supporters of the Prime Minister will be hoping that any winning margin will be large enough to enable her to gain the support of her party – the first step in gaining wider Parliamentary support for her Brexit deal.


Vote on Brexit delayed

Updated December 10th, 2018

The planned vote by the UK Parliament on adopting the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, due to take place on December 11th, is to be postponed.

Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed this in a statement to Parliament, and follows increasing certainty that the May government would suffer one of the heaviest defeats by any UK government.

The Withdrawal Agreement had proved highly unpopular with ardent Brexiteers – resulting from concerns over the Irish ‘backstop’ – as well as those Remainers who oppose any type of Brexit. It was clear that, despite a whistle-stop tour around the UK by Government Ministers, there were not enough MPs who would be prepared to support the Prime Minister.

In her statement to Parliament she confirmed that, while the Withdrawal Agreement was the only one on the table, the unpopularity of the Irish backstop made it necessary to reassess how the fears of the DUP and other Brexiteers could be eased. While it is clear that ardent Brexiteers are unhappy with a number of aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement, if the Irish backstop is resolved the possibility of Parliament supporting the Agreement significantly increases.

Bank of England Governor issues ‘no Brexit’ warning

ftHow the Irish border backstop became Brexit’s defining issue

Prime Minister May’s Open Letter on Brexit Deal

Political Declaration agreed

November 22nd, 2018

The so-called ‘political declaration’ outlining the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU has been agreed in principle. This follows the announcement of the ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ earlier in the week.

Download here

The 7-page document, which was released at the same time as the divorce settlement, has now been beefed up to some 26 pages and will be developed further during the 21 month transition period. While the document lays out both parties’ aspirations to create a close economic partnership it is not a legally binding document.

The intention is to allow trade to be as free as possible, with regulation of financial services based on the principle of ‘equivalence’.

In terms of the Irish issue, there is a common aim to explore solutions which use new technologies to avoid a hard border.

Barnier – Withdrawal Agreement allows UK to ‘take back control’

EU agrees text of Withdrawal Agreement allowing an ‘orderly Brexit’

News conference latest – November 19th, 2018


Brexit Secretary resigns

Updated November 15th 2018


Draft agreement accepted by UK Cabinet

Updated November 14th 2018

The draft agreement on Brexit, which was reached by UK and EU negotiators, has been accepted by the UK Cabinet, and the full 585 page agreement will be released later. (November 14th, 2018).

Despite the collective agreement, it is estimated that as many as 10 Cabinet ministers had strong reservations, mainly regarding the customs arrangement which ties the UK to the EU customs union until a replacement arrangement is found, and binds Northern Ireland more firmly to the EU – again, until an acceptable border arrangement can be put in place.

Despite Cabinet agreement, it is far from certain that the proposal to accept the agreement will be passed by the UK Parliament, which relies largely on the Northen Irish DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) for its survival, through the ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement. The DUP, which has 10 MPs, have been clear that they are likely to vote down any arrangement which treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.


Cabinet members are being briefed on the contents of the agreement, which covers how a hard border on the island of Ireland will be avoided,  although European diplomats remain cautious, and the Irish government has made it clear that talks are still ongoing.

A special Cabinet meeting will be held on Wednesday to discuss the draft agreement. As a result of this news Sterling soared on the foreign exchange markets, rising to 1.15 euros, and 1.30 US dollars.

Updated October 15th 2018

Talks stall on Irish Border issue

Failure to secure a deal has continued to frustrate all parties, with disputes over the customs relationship and the position of Northern Ireland causing the deadlock.

The main stumbling block is the so-called ‘backstop’ which is designed to ensure that the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland remains open.  This is despite leaks which seemed to indicate that an deal on the Irish border issue had already been done late last week. The most likely sticking point will be on the ‘wording’ of an agreement – wording which must satisfy all parties, including various factions in the Conservative Party.

Donald Tusk says UK plan for trading relationship will not work

Today (September 20th, 2018) the European Council’s President, Donald Tusk, confirmed the EU’s position on the UK’s ‘Chequers Plan’ – namely that it was not acceptable as it would undermine the EU’s single market.

The EU regards the attempt to operate a common rule book for trade in goods, but not services, as ‘cherry picking’ which would run counter to the idea of a single marketplace. While Mrs May has played down this as a negotiating tactic, it is clear that there is a great deal of work still to be done before the next EU Council meeting in October as the possibily of a no-deal Brexit moves another step nearer.


Michel Barnier and Dominic Raab

Updated July 26th 2018

The EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, has rejected a key element of the Chequers White Paper on the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU – namely that the UK would apply the EU’s trade policy and tariffs on goods coming into the UK, but destined for the EU.

According to Mr Barnier (speaking at a joint press conference in Brussels – 26th July, 2018), “the EU cannot and will not delegate the application of its customs policy and rules, VAT and duty collection to a non-member who would not be subject to the EU governance structures”.

This follows the publication of the Chequers White Paper:

Read more

July 9th 2018

Brexit Secretary David Davis resigns

Brexit Secretary and chief negotiator, David Davis, resigned last night just 2 days after the UK Cabinet agreed its negotiating stance on its future trading relationship with the EU.

In a letter to the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, Mr Davis stated that he believed the agreement that the Cabinet had signed up to would significantly weaken the UK’s negotiating position and he could therefore not support it.

Dominic Raab has appointed the new Brexit Secretary.

July 6th 2018

UK Cabinet agrees common stance on trade negotiations

At long last the UK government has set out its position in terms of its future trading relationship with the EU.

The ‘Chequers statement’ lays out what most observers agree is its plan for a ‘soft Brexit’, and covers the following:

  1. Freedom of movement of labour will be replaced by a new ‘mobility framework’ which will allow continued travel for work and study between the UK and EU.
  2. A new phased-in customs arrangement to create a ‘combined customs territory’.
  3. The UK will pursue its own trade policy enabling it to set its own tariff levels and negotiate new trade deals with the rest of the world.
  4. The UK will continue to harmonise its trade rules with the EU where this is required to facilitate frictionless trade in goods – so called ‘regulatory alignment’. This will include common standards relating to consumer protection and the environment.
  5. In terms of services, including financial services, new reciprocal arrangements will focus on the need for ‘regulatory flexibility’.
  6. The jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will cease, but where common rules exist, UK courts will pay regard to ECJ rulings.
  7. Parliament will have the final say on how the common rules are incorporated into UK law.

Previous reports

May 3rd, 2018

Customs options

This week the UK government has been discussing the relative merits of two customs options:

  1. streamlined customs arrangement – which involves minimal customs checks and the use of new technology to enable as frictionless trade as possible – popularly known as ‘maximum facilitation’ or ‘Max Fac’. This option would allow the movement of goods between the UK and the EU to be monitored and recorded, with traders paying duties on a monthly or quarterly basis, rather than paying duties on every shipment or service traded. This is the option currently favoured by ‘Brexiteers’.
  2. customs partnership with the EU – which involves the UK acting as a tax collector for the EU whenever goods enter the UK. If the goods are bound for the UK, and if the UK tariff is lower than the EU tariff, traders could claim any difference. This was the option reportedly favoured by Mrs May, although it remains unclear whether she still supports it following the Cabinet meeting this week.

The essential difficulty in moving forward is that while membership of the existing Customs Union has been ruled out as it would prevent the UK negotiating its own trade deals, no parties involved in the negotiations want to have a hard customs border between the Irish Republic (and EU member) and Northern Ireland (due to leave the EU with the rest of the UK).

While both options currently being discussed would provide some form of solution to the customs issue, and would allow the UK to negotiate new trade deals with the rest of the world, there is clearly much more work to be done in shaping out a detailed proposal – one that will, in the short term, unite members of Mrs May’s government and in the medium term one that has enough detail to form the basis of a trade negotiation.

March 19th 2018

Transition deal – key elements agreed

Key elements of the transition deal have been agreed in what has been called a ‘decisive step’ towards an ‘orderly withdrawal of the UK from the EU.

  1. The transition period will last from the 29th of March, 2019, until December 2020.
  2. Agreement has been reached on the status and rights of the 4.5 million EU citizens in the UK, and the 1.2 million UK citizens in the EU.
  3. Crucially for the UK it will be able to undertake trade negotiations with non-EU countries during the transition period, and sign trade deals.
  4. The main issue still to be resolved is the situation of the Northern Irish border, with the EU insisting that the deal will include a “backstop” option with Northern Ireland remaining in parts of the single market and the customs union should no other deal be agreed.

Read the full document

EU draft transition document


Donald Tusk presents EU guidelines on UK trade relationship

Key points of Tusk speech

March 7th 2018

Mr Tusk re-stated that any free trade agreement (FTA) could not offer the same benefits as membership and cannot amount to participation in the Single Market.

The agreement would cover:


  1. Trade in goodswhich should be subject to zero tariffs and no quantity restrictions, and with appropriate rules of origin. Existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources should continue.
  2. Customs cooperationto preserve the regulatory and jurisdictional autonomy of the parties and the integrity of the EU Customs Union.
  3. Trade in serviceswith the aim of allowing market access to provide services under host state rules – the UK will become a third country and the Union and the UK will no longer share a common regulatory, supervisory, enforcement and judiciary framework.

Other areas of interest to the Union, for example access to public sector markets, investments and protection of intellectual property rights.


  1. Aviation – there would need to be an air transport agreement, combined with an aviation safety agreement, while ensuring a strong level playing field in a highly competitive sector.
  2. EU programmes, such as those relating to research and innovation and of education and culture, any participation of the UK should be subject to the relevant conditions for the participation of third countries.
  3. Guarantees to be in place to ensure a level playing field and prevent unfair competitive advantage that the UK could enjoy through undercutting of current levels of protection (involving state aid, tax, social, environment and regulatory measures and practices.)
  4. Judicial cooperation in criminal matters should constitute an important element of the future EU-UK relationship in the light of the geographic proximity and shared threats faced by the Union and the UK.
  5. Information – the future partnership should cover effective exchange of information, support for operational cooperation between law enforcement authorities and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
  6. Security – in terms of defence and foreign policy there should be no gap in the EU-UK cooperation as a consequence of the UK withdrawal from the Union.

Dispute settlement

The governance of the future relationship with the UK will have to address management and supervision, dispute settlement and enforcement, including sanctions and cross-retaliation mechanisms.


Mrs May sets out five tests for Brexit

March 2nd 2018

Speech by the UK Prime Minister, Teresa May

In her London speech today, (2/03/2018) Teresa May laid out the UK Government’s position on what it is looking for in terms of the UK’s future economic partnership with the EU.

She confirmed that real progress has already been made, but differences between the UK and the EU still exist. Mrs May went on to set out five tests to guide the UK in its negotiations:

  1. That the future deal must respect the referendum result – to take control of laws, borders and money.
  2. That any deal must endure – it must be sustainable.
  3. That any deal must protect jobs and security. This can be done through a mutually beneficial economic relationship.
  4. That any deal must be ‘consistent with the kind of country we want to be’ – namely, modern, outward-looking and tolerant.
  5. That any agreement must bring the country back together, and make the union of countries stronger.

Mrs May went on to outline the nature of a new economic relationship which, she argued, should not simply be based on an existing model – not based on the Norwegian or Canadian models. Existing models, she insisted, do not provide the best way forward. Mrs May stressed that it was essential to build a new and deep relationship covering more areas than are covered in existing models.

In terms of the Irish border, she confirmed that the Belfast Agreement must be respected, and that physical border infrastructure is not something the UK wants – if the EU wants to create a hard border, then that is a matter for them.

In terms of ‘taking back control’ of laws, Mrs May confirmed that while ECJ judgements and case law will continue to be taken into account, the UK will no longer fall within the jurisdiction of the ECJ. In terms of regulations covering standards, Mrs May said that the EU should be confident that it will not be a ‘race to the bottom’ to remove them, and that UK standards should be at least as high as those in the EU.

Mrs May went on to re-state that the UK government did not accept the EU’s position that only an existing model can be applied. Trading relationships between the UK and the EU should be based on five key principles:

  1. Reciprocal binding agreements to ensure fair competition.
  2. An independent arbitration process in terms of upholding trade agreements and settling disputes.
  3. The maintenance of an ongoing dialogue and regular consultations.
  4. A new arrangement for data protection.
  5. Maintain links between people of UK and EU.


The UK’s position as a free trade advocate was, Mrs May argued, the key driver for the position that post-Brexit trade between the UK and the EU should be as free as possible, with trade at borders to be as frictionless as possible. She went on to clarify that while there was a commitment that the UK would ensure that laws are harmonised, they would not necessarily be identical, and stated that the outcomes of the laws can be agreed, if not the specific rules. Regarding European industry agencies, the UK could remain as associate members.

Mrs May confirmed that a new agreement on customs was essential to ensure mutually beneicial trade continues, with two options put forward:

  1. Customs partnership – Where the UK applies the same customs rules, and rules of origins, and avoids the need for double checking if these goods are simply in transit from non-EU countries to the EU.
  2. Customs arrangements – a streamlined system to keep trade flowing simply, where the UK implements existing schemes to allow trade flows, and creates new ‘trusted trader’ schemes when necessary.

Mrs May confirmed that agriculture, food and drink would require additional rules given the UK will leave CAP and the CFP. There was also a clear recognition by the UK government of the need for mobility of labour across Europe, and that mutual recognition of educational qualifications should continue.


Mrs May stated that a special relationship covering broadcasting must be agreed, given that the UK provides over 30% of EU broadcasting.

Financial services

She also confirmed that the UK was not looking for passporting rights, which are specifically related to the EU. London is the most important global financial centre with the UK having considerable responsibility for the stability of the UK financial markets –  many EU businesses rely on a flow of finance from the UK and a new reciprocal arrangement is required to ensure that capital mobility is maintained to the benefit of both the UK and the EU.


Trade barriers ‘unavoidable’

Updated Monday 5th February, 2018

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has stated that if the UK leaves the customs union, as the government has now confirmed, some barriers to trade will be ‘unavoidable’.

This comes at a time when Brexit negotiations are entering a critical phase covering the nature and length of the transition process, and the nature of the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU. The talks are set to continue all this week.


EU sets out its negotiating position

The EU has now made its position clear on the transition, or implementation, phase of the Brexit talks.

During this 2-year phase, which is due to end on 31st December, 2020, the UK will continue to take part in the customs union, and Single Market. However, the UK will have to implement any new EU laws while having no involvement in the EU decision making process, which, according to Brexiteers puts the UK in the position of a ‘vassal’ state. Nor is the UK free to implement any new trade deals during this period with non-EU countries without the agreement of the EU.

Talks can move on to trade – but not just yet!

Despite agreement that sufficient progress has been made on the UK’s ‘divorce bill’, and on the Irish border question, it is still unclear exactly when talks will start on Phase 2 – the trade talks. While preliminary talks may start in February, virtually all observers (See FT Report) expect the serious negotiations to commence in early March, 2018. All parties accept that Britain will leave on March 29th 2019, which means that talks must be concluded well before that date.

Previous updates

European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced this morning (Friday December 8th, 2017) that ‘sufficient progress’ has been made in the Brexit talks to allow negotiators to move on to discussions on the UK and EU’s future trade relationship. Critical to this was significant progress on the Irish issue, with a firm commitment that there will be no hard border. Talks involving all parties continued through the night, with agreement reached in the early hours of Friday. Provisional agreement on the financial ‘divorce’ settlement had already been made, with just the Irish border issue and the situation regarding citizens rights remaining.

As a result, sterling was up against most major currencies in early trading.

See also:

BBC news

Previous reports

Divorce deal near to completion

Despite the absence of any official comment, it now seems probable that the UK and the EU are close to settling the first key element in Brexit talks – namely, the financial ‘divorce’ settlement.

The Daily Telegraph has reported that its sources have suggested that a figure of between €45bn and €55bn, depending on how the agreed methodology is calculated. The Financial Times says that the UK will assume liabilities ‘worth up to €100bn’ (£88bn), which would fall to less than half of this when adjusted for payments back to the UK. Of course, details of the settlement figure, what it relates to, and how and when it will be paid will not be made available quite just yet. It is likely that, to avoid appearing to have ‘won’ or to sound too triumphant, EU negotiators will not want figures released, given that the figure is very close to their initial assessment of net liabilities.

EU negotiators are likely to want to avoid causing any political embarrassment to the UK government, given that many its backbenchers would prefer a much smaller settlement. However, both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – two leading pro-Brexit Cabinet ministers – have given Mrs May their support over the financial settlement, although adhering to the accepted principle that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’. Indeed, a final figure may not be known even after trade talks have finished, given that some of the UK’s financial liabilities relate to pension payments to EU officials, which are impossible to calculate ahead of time. What it does mean is that two further issues can now be moved into the spotlight – the question of the Irish boarder, and the position of EU and UK citizens, post-Brexit.

The Irish border issue

The UK government has already rejected the possibility of Northern Ireland remaining in the customs union, or the whole of Ireland forming a separate customs union. However, the UK government has said that it has actively looked to find ‘creative solutions’ which might eliminate the possibility of having a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. What is clear that the precise nature of any border – hard or soft – will depend on any trade agreement that is negotiated.

Previous report

Background to Brexit

On June 23rd 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU – commonly known as ‘Brexit’. By July 14th a new government was in place, led by Theresa May, with Phillip Hammond as the new Chancellor. In the lead up to the referendum vote there was a broad consensus that Brexit was likely to cause a sizeable short term economic shock. This shock would, forecasters argued, be followed by a period of low growth, with fall-out adversely affecting the value of sterling, inflation, productivity and jobs.

The initial impact of Brexit on the financial markets stemmed from the uncertainty which followed this momentous decision – uncertainty about the short term impact on prices, jobs and growth, and about the kind of trading relationships that would emerge. Financial markets responded to this uncertainty in dramatic fashion, with the pound falling to a 30-year low against the US dollar, and stock markets around the world suffering considerable falls. There was a bounce back as the markets calmed immediately following the formation of the new government.

Sterling (daily spot rate against euro and US dollar)

Despite the Bank of England indicating that monetary policy would be loosened, interest rates were kept on hold at 0.5%, giving some room for manoeuvre later in 2016. The Bank of England’s MPC decided not to reduce rates immediately, until some hard evidence had become available regarding the impact of Brexit on the real economy.

Looking beyond the immediate shock, what is less certain is the medium and longer term impact of Brexit on the UK economy, given that, at the time of writing, there was no clear government policy on which ‘version’ of Brexit would eventually be adopted.

The main reason for the negative forecasts prior to the vote was the assessment that, while the benefits of remaining in the EU seemed clear, the benefits of leaving were far less clear, especially given the uncertainty about how Brexit negotiations would unfold. A consensus view emerged that the UK might find it difficult to compensate for the loss of the benefits that being an EU member bring. These include:

  1. Tariff-free access to other member’s markets, which reduces the costs of trade, and creates trade between members
  2. No customs check or controls on the movement of goods between EU members
  3. single market with common regulation creating a level playing field
  4. Further access to 55 other markets through numerous EU-Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)
  5. Common external tariffs on non-member imports

Add to these benefits, the fact that UK trade as a share of national income – trade openness – has risen to over 60% in the past decade, compared to under 30% in the years before the UK joined the EU, the economic case against Brexit, at least in the short run, appeared a strong one.

As the economic ‘dust’ settles, much will depend on the kind of trade agreements that will be reached, how resilient the UK economy is in the short term, and on how much time the negotiations will take to complete.

Trading scenarios for the UK after leaving the EU

The European Economic Area (EEA) scenario

The EEA (European Economic Area) scenario involves the UK leaving the EU, but continuing as a member of the wider EEA. The EEA includes the remaining 27 EU countries, together with the four European Free Trade Area (EFTA) states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

EFTA was founded in 1960 as a counterbalance to the more politically focussed European Economic Community (EEC) as it then was, and included Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In 1973, the United Kingdom and Denmark left EFTA to join the EC (as it had then become) and were followed by Portugal in 1986 and by Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995. In recent years, EFTA has successfully concluded free trade agreements with North America and Asia. Supporters of this option have argued that the UK could, fairly quickly, become a fifth member of EFTA. However, in this scenario there would still be free and uncontrolled movement of labour into the UK, and a budget contribution to the EU, while at the same time EFTA-only members have no influence on EU trade rules in the future. There seems a consensus among analysts that this EU-lite option would put the UK at a significant disadvantage in terms of influencing the direction of the EU going forward.

An EU-UK Free Trade Agreement (FTA) scenario

This option would involve the UK negotiating a completely new free trade agreement with the EU, similar perhaps to that enjoyed by Canada. Clearly this would involve a lengthy negotiation period, perhaps with the EU reluctant to fast-track this kind of agreement.

The WTO scenario

The WTO scenario means that a country’s trade is subject only to the rules of the WTO club. If the UK adopted this approach – as some supporters of Brexit do – it would be subject to the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) rules of the WTO. The main principle of this WTO rule is that members should not be discriminated against and, in the absence of specific free trade agreements, all members should enjoy the same treatment as the most favoured country. Hence, if one member grants another member a special trade advantage, the same advantage should be conferred on all other members. Adopting this policy would, of course, mean that the UK would not have free access to the EU, and could not influence EU trade rules.

The Unilateral free trade scenario

The unilateral free trade scenario is a variant of the WTO scenario, where UK goods and services are faced with the tariff levels agreed through the WTO, but where the UK reduces its tariff levels on imports without any reciprocal reduction by trading partners. This is widely thought to be the least likely option following Brexit, although New Zealand and Singapore have successfully adopted this kind of approach. For example, Singapore has negotiated 20 free trade agreements with its 31 main trading partners.

The models used by key forecasters in the run-up to the referendum assumed the unilateral free trade approach to be the worst-case scenario. While unilateral elimination of tariffs gives away key ‘bargaining chips’ in future trade negotiations, some economists (especially those in the Economists for Brexit group) believe that the unilateral free trade route would lead to the greatest long term gains for the UK. This view is based on the belief that any form of protectionism distorts trade patterns to the detriment of all parties. However, Economists for Brexit and other ‘free traders’ recognise that the UK’s agricultural and industrial sectors are likely to be severely squeezed, as the lack of a comparative advantage in these areas will be exposed by unilateral free trade.

Other implications of Brexit

Impact on FDI

In terms of FDI, independent analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) prior to the referendum vote, concluded that it is most probable that flows will fall after Brexit. This it likely to reduce productivity (given that productivity relies on the level of capital investment) which will have a negative impact on GDP. Lower FDI will have both demand and supply-side implications for all key macro-economic performance indicators, including growth, jobs and trade.

Less regulation

Given that the EU sets regulation in many areas, including the environment, health and safety, employment and financial services, exit from the EU is likely to lead to a reduction in the level of regulation. However, many analysts have concluded that the effects of this may be fairly modest given that the UK is a relatively unregulated economy compared with many others.

Impact on public finances

It is likely that there will be two different, and contradictory, effects of Brexit on public finances. Firstly, the positive mechanical effect, which means that leaving the EU will strengthen the public finances in the short term as a result of a fall in net contributions of the order of £8bn a year – the gross contribution of £18.8bn, less the rebate and the return back of funds from the EU budget. However, a second and stronger negative effect, the national income effect, suggests that the possible fall in GDP as a result of Brexit will weaken public finances, as tax receipts fall and spending increases. Whatever the impact, there is likely to be a significant delay in its effect given that the mechanical effect will only happen once the UK ceases to make payments to the EU, which may well not be until at least 2018/19.

The digital economy

Research suggests that, apart from the US, web users are highly inward looking, generating a strong home-bias in favour of local online suppliers and internet providers, suggesting that trading in the digital world is both less open than we might believe, but also dominated by US based companies. While the internet should reduce ‘economic distance’ between countries, the home-bias effect may well counteract this. With its many languages, different cultural preferences, and inward looking approach to the digital economy, many doubt that the EU is best placed to cope with the new realities of a digital world. Although the EU has made some progress in liberating the digital market-place, many feel that the UK should adopt a much more outward looking approach.

Brexit image - planets orbiting - gravity theory

One view is that once the UK has ‘cut loose from its orbit’ around the EU it can connect more closely to the US, which dominates the digital economy, and where the ‘economic distance’ between the UK, US, Canada, Australia and other English speaking nations is much smaller than between the UK and the EU. The same may be said of the emerging power-houses of China and India, and indeed many see Brexit as a considerable opportunity for the UK to have a much closer relationship with these two countries.

The financial sector

Perhaps the single biggest unknown is the impact of Brexit on the UK’s financial sector. In the early days after the Brexit vote many were claiming that the UK would suffer irreparable damage, and certainly shares in UK banks were some of the worst to suffer – along with those of house-builders.

The UK is a dominant player in global financial markets, and has the largest market share of EU business in financial services – double that of France and Germany. How Brexit negotiations unfold will be highly significant to the UK’s financial sector.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Brexit for the UK’s financial services is the potential loss of so called ‘passporting rights’. This relates to the ability of banks and other financial institutions in one EU state to conduct business in another one. As a member of the EU, national banks and financial institutions do not need to obtain licenses in each country. It is certainly too early to tell exactly how Brexit will affect financial services at the global level, and in terms of the UK and the EU.


The impact of Brexit on the UK’s farming sector is also likely to be considerable, given that over 50% of farm income in the UK comes from CAP support. However, until new trade deals have been negotiated, and the UK government has made its position clear on subsidies, the overall impact on farming remains unknown.

New policies

As well as introduce a new outward looking approach to trade policy designed for the post-Brexit era, many see Brexit as an opportunity to develop a whole new range of domestic policies. Many argue that the UK has neglected its industrial base, and its infrastructure, and it is time to develop a new industrial policy for the post-Brexit age. This could also be said for technology policy and innovation.

See also:

Gravity theory of trade