As the government sets out its principal plans for Brexit, the White Paper for leaving Europe has been released and covers areas including trade, migration controls and sovereignty issues. The policy document sets outs Theresa May’s goals for negotiations with the European Union and comes after there was mounting pressure from MPs across the House of Commons for the Prime Minister to go public with detailed plans on exactly how Britain will leave the EU.
The main points of the White Paper include how the UK will withdraw from the Single Market and look for new customs arrangements and a free trade agreement with the EU; there will be a new immigration system to fill skills shortages and allow “genuine” students; a plan with European countries to secure the rights of expats living overseas; Britain will leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice but look to arrange separate resolution mechanisms for issues including trade disputes; the government is planning a “seamless and frictionless border” between Northern Ireland and Ireland’’; the government will give more powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as brought back to the UK.
While Conservatives, with the exception of some Tory rebels, hail the White Paper as a success story, Labour say the document is not detailed and has been produced too late.
As negotiations go forward, the government says it will not necessarily be public about certain details.
Responding to its release, Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said: “There are reasons to be optimistic about trade and retail in a post-Brexit world. It’s encouraging that the Government recognizes that the UK has a role to play as a champion of free and open trade. However, securing a positive new customs arrangement with the EU, which enables mutually beneficial opportunities for trade with the EU and the rest of the world, will be crucial to ensuring British shoppers aren’t hit with the costs of unwanted import tariffs.”
“Making these stated ambitions a reality will require close partnership between the retail industry and UK-EU negotiators. In the short-term, the number one priority needs to be ensuring that Britain’s exit from the EU is orderly, allowing all goods traded between the EU and the UK to be in free circulation.”
Speaking about securing new trade deals with the EU, Food and Drink Federation director general, Ian Wright, has previously said: ““We welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has provided some much needed additional clarity on her Government’s approach to plans for the UK’s EU exit.”
“The food and drink industry is worth £108 billion to the UK economy. Two thirds of food and drink exports go the EU. So we welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to securing the freest and simplest possible trade arrangements with the EU. We are also encouraged that the PM hopes to adopt a phased approach to Brexit which offers businesses time to prepare and plan as opposed to a potentially fatal jump from the cliff edge.”
“In addition to its huge economic contribution the food and drink industry is at the heart of our national security and our national infrastructure. It must be a top priority in any consideration of sectoral deals with the EU.”
Meanwhile, Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, says that while applauding the ambition to “build a better Britain”, the White Paper does not give enough reassurance that Brexit will not lead to lower standards for consumers, workers and the environment.
Ben Reynolds, deputy chief executive said: “Given the huge importance of the UK farm and food system to our economy and health and wellbeing, we welcome the commitment to design “new, better and more efficient policies for delivering sustainable and productive farming, land management and rural communities.”
“We hope the detail that follows this statement of intent from the Government backs up this position and that we don’t race towards becoming a bargain bin Britain, with lower quality standards in the food we eat and the farming we support.”
“There must be no weakening of rules on environment, pesticides, animal welfare, workers rights or food safety to both protect public health and ecosystems but also to ensure we are able to continue to sell goods in global markets where such standards are expected. To ensure this we believe it is important to take time to design a new agriculture support system for farmers, which ensures a healthy environment and other public benefits, given the huge impact any policy changes will have on farm viability.”
Earlier this week MPs voted to allow Theresa May to invoke Article 50 in a House of Commons vote passing the European Union Bill by 498 votes to 114.
Formal negotiations can begin once the UK has done this, which the PM promised will be by the end of March.