Countdown to a no-deal Brexit: 150 calendar days – but insufficient priority or progress on Government preparations

The Prime Minister announced that she will resign as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party on Friday 7 June.  The Conservative Party has begun choosing a new leader for the party – and the UK Prime Minister – a process will take several weeks.

Meanwhile, Europe is focused on dealing with the fallout from the results of the recent European Parliament elections – and in selecting three new Presidents to serve for the coming 5 years.

What does this mean for Brexit legislation?  Bluntly, it is not entirely clear.  The Government had said that it would provide an update on publication of the ‘Withdrawal Agreement Bill’ (WAB) as MPs return to Westminster from a week’s recess.

Meanwhile enabling Brexit related legislation – such as the Fisheries Bill, Trade Bill and Agriculture Bill – has been put on hold. During the Conservative leadership contest Theresa May continues in the post of Prime Minister – with all the powers this role entails. However, she has said that “it will be for my successor, and for Parliament, to find a way forward and get a consensus” on Brexit. The latest Parliamentary committee report into Brexit preparations paints a dismal picture on just how unprepared the UK is for Brexit – whatever form it takes.

Four key dates

20 – 21 June: European Council summit at which the 28 EU leaders will review progress of the UK’s exit from the EU

2 July: First sitting of the new European Parliament

17-18 October: European Council summit

23:00 GMT on 31 October 2019: The ‘exit date’ now set in law for the UK to leave the EU. The EU leaders have made it clear that it’s the deal agreed in November 2018 – and rejected 3 times by UK Parliament – or ‘no-deal’.

Future UK-EU transport connectivity

One Parliamentary committee has just published its findings. The EU Internal Market Sub-Committee raises deep concerns on the amount of work that is still needed between now and Brexit in order to deal with the ‘implications of Brexit for road, rail and maritime transport’.

Transport links are a fundamental component of the trading relationship between the UK and the EU – and have an important social function by enabling the mobility of citizens. The implications of Brexit for different transport modes vary depending on the degree of integration of UK networks with the EU.  Their report examines what will be needed to maintain connectivity in the road, rail and maritime sectors under a new UK-EU relationship – whatever form this may take. Key findings are summarised, below.

Chairman of the EU Internal Market Sub-Committee, Lord Whitty, emphasised that maintaining surface transport links will be vital. “The UK’s interests and priorities vary between transport modes.  Road transport, for example, is heavily regulated at the EU level whereas the maritime sector is largely underpinned by international law.  On the rail side, the UK has limited physical network links with the EU but a strong interest in the EU’s rail manufacturing market.  This leaves many questions still to be answered.”

Road haulage

UK hauliers currently rely on the EU’s Community Licence system to carry goods between the UK and the EU. The published positions of the UK Government and the EU suggest that the continuation of this system is an unlikely outcome.

Bus and coach transport

Bus and coach transport provides consumers with a low-cost option for international travel, and an agreement to maintain UK-EU services is needed and should set out clear reciprocal benefits for both markets.

Private motoring

The inconvenience and additional costs of International Driving Permits and Green Cards should not be underestimated. The committee finds the present requirement for UK drivers to visit a Post Office to obtain an International Driving Permit unsatisfactory. The Government should improve accessibility, including the addition of an online option.

Vehicle standards

If the EU retains its influence on international vehicle standards, the UK will have a continuing interest in its position, which will be more difficult to influence after Brexit. There may however be opportunities, for example, in areas relating to newer technologies, for the UK to take a leading role in international standard-setting.

Rail transport

The Government intends to conclude bilateral agreements with some EU countries to maintain rail services through the Channel Tunnel and the Dublin-Belfast Enterprise. While this is the most urgent priority, a more far-reaching set of bilateral agreements would provide greater certainty for long-distance freight services and support the future expansion of UK international freight and passenger services.

Maritime transport

Maritime transport is generally liberalised and underpinned by international law. Post-Brexit, UK and EU ship operators will in most respects be able to access each other’s ports as at present.

The Government should seek wide-ranging, deep co-operation arrangements with the European Maritime Safety Authority (EMSA), including in the area of response to sea pollution.

Northern Ireland – Ireland road and rail transport

The island of Ireland’s distinct social and economic ties place unique demands on its future transport arrangements. These conditions may not be best-served by broader negotiations on UK-EU transport arrangements. A solution may be found in an integrated bilateral approach to arrangements for passenger transport by rail and road.