Statement from Priti on UK-EU Political Declaration
Statement from The Rt Hon Priti Patel MP in response to the ‘Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom
One week after the Government capitulated to the EU with the Withdrawal Agreement, our national interests have once again been cast aside in the Political Declaration. While this Declaration contains many platitudes, which on the surface may seem amenable, it does not deliver a future free from EU control and does not set us on a course to the ‘Equal Partnership’ promised in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech.
The Declaration notes the importance of the UK and EU working together “to safeguard the rules-based international order, the rules of law and promotion of democracy” (para. 2). It also seeks to “establish the parameters of an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership across trade and economic cooperation, law enforcement and criminal justice, foreign policy, security and defence and wider areas of cooperation” (para. 3).
But once the surface is scratched and the detail which is there is examined, it is clear that the Declaration does not deliver a future for our country free from EU control. It contains many uncertainties and contradictions; and in view of the £39 billion divorce settlement the UK is set to pay it does not guarantee us a free trade deal. It is like betting your house on a horse to win the Grand National when there is no guarantee that horse will even enter the race or turn up to race.
In fact, the Declaration guarantees nothing but leaves open many risks to our country and opportunities for the EU to continue to exert controls and impose laws on us contained in the Withdrawal Agreement. While the Withdrawal Agreement is binding on the UK and the EU, to the detriment of our country, the Declaration carries no legal weight.
It is not a legally binding document and is merely a statement of intent from the UK Government and the EU. What some will view as positive aspects of the Declaration, such as cooperation on civil nuclear (para. 68), the exchange of intelligence information (para. 105) and cooperation on counter-terrorism threats (para. 117) these cannot be guaranteed. Many aspects of the Declaration could materialise into a serious erosion of our sovereignty akin to the Withdrawal Agreement when it is transformed into a legal document.
If we look at the provisions in the Declaration on trade, the Declaration states that the UK and EU “agree to develop an ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership” and ensure “a level playing field for open and fair competition” (para. 17). On the movement of goods across borders the Declaration advocates “comprehensive arrangements that will create a free trade area, combining deep regulatory and customs operation, underpinned but provisions ensuring a level playing field” (para. 22). However, this leaves a lack of clarity on what rules will be applied.
When we delve closer into the Declaration it gives a definition on the “level playing field” which includes commitments to competition, social and employment standards, environmental standards, climate change and relevant tax matters (para. 79). That leaves a lot open to chance. Given the one-sided nature of the Withdrawal Agreement, under the future legal text of this Declaration we could still be bound into being a rule-taker having to stick rigidly to EU standards or lose trade opportunities.
Related to the trade in goods is the crucial issue of customs and tariffs. This impacts on our ability to trade with the rest of the world and have the power to set our own tariffs. The Withdrawal Agreement binds the UK into the single customs territory, which is in effect the Customs Union. Although the Prime Minister has stated that we are going to leave the Customs Union, the Declaration pledges to “build and improve on the single customs territory” (para. 23). Any future checks and controls will be dependent on our alignment with EU rules (para. 28). That’s not leaving the Customs Union, but keeping us tied into the EU’s customs rules and tariffs indefinitely. The uncertainty this arrangement creates could also affect our ability to negotiate new trade deal. If our tariffs and customs arrangements are dictated to us by Brussels we will not have the flexibility we need to boost trade and exports to growing markets across the world.
The Declaration also implies that our public procurement rules could continue to be bound to those set by the EU. It stipulates that both the UK and the EU “should provide for mutual opportunities in the Parties’ respective public procurement markets” (para. 48). Given that the EU’s rules are already imposed on the UK, this provision suggests that the UK Government will be unable to change them when we leave the EU. Cash-strapped councils and other public bodies could find themselves continuing to embark on costly and bureaucratic procurement processes to comply with future UK-EU arrangements. And as EU procurement rules come under EU law, the Court of Justice of the EU will be making judgements affecting us.
Through the Withdrawal Agreement the EU Court will continue to exercise jurisdiction over our country for many more years. The Declaration reinforces the fact that the Government has broken its promise to end the jurisdiction of the EU Court when we leave the EU. It continues to maintain the commitment that the EU Court will make final and binding judgements on matters of EU law (para.134) and it also stipulates that the Court can influence and impose its view on issues relating to cooperation on law enforcement matters. The Declaration comments that cooperation on law enforcement will depend on how much the UK aligns and accepts EU legal orders. It states that the “scale and scope of future arrangements” will “reflect the commitments the United Kingdom is willing to make that respect the integrity of the Union’s legal order, such as with regard to alignment of rules and the mechanisms for disputes and enforcement including the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in the interpretation of Union law” (para. 83).
In short, if we want to cooperate fully on law enforcement and criminal matters we have to accept EU law and control and they make no compromise in return. Of further concern is that the rights and obligations include reflecting the “Union’s and its Member States’ commitment to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.” However, the UK Government has consistently objected to the Charter being applied in the UK and Section 5(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 legislates so that the “Charter of Fundamental Rights is not part of domestic law on or after exit day.” So with the Declaration the Government has negotiated away the provisions in legislation passed earlier this year.
There are a range of EU bodies and agencies which for understandable reasons the UK Government want to continue to engage and cooperate with. Those mentioned in the Declaration include Europol, Eurojust, the European Medicines Agency, European Chemicals Agency and the European Aviation Safety Agency. There’s also the prospect of cooperating on aid programmes. However, there is no detail on the nature of the relationship in those areas and there is no commitment given for the UK to exercise any real and genuine influence. We could just end up paying the bills for little or nothing in return.
On the European Investment Bank, for example, the Declaration states that the UK intends to “explore options for a future relationship with the European Investment Bank” (para. 15). However, there are no further details given on what that relationship will look like. At the moment, the UK is the joint largest shareholder in the EIB with Germany, France and Italy and has a seat on the Board of Governors and the Board of Directors. The Withdrawal Agreement makes it clear that the UK will no longer be a part of the EIB so we would lose those positions. It also stipulates in Article 151 that from the date of entry into force of the Withdrawal Agreement, “neither the United Kingdom nor projects located in the United Kingdom shall be eligible for new financial operations from the EIB group that are reserved for Member States.”
So while the Government is interested in having an arrangement in the future with the EIB, the Declaration and the Withdrawal Agreement combined freeze the UK out and there is no guarantee that our level of influence would be restored. On top of this, our relationship with the EIB has implications for the financial settlement to the EU. The £39 billion settlement includes around £3 billion being returned to the UK from the EIB in twelve annual instalments from December 2019 to reimburse the UK for paid-in capital. This is stipulated in Article 150(4) of the Withdrawal Agreement. Therefore, if the UK were to continue in a relationship with the EIB, this could mean that the £3 billion would not be reimbursed and the amount we will need to pay to the EU in the financial settlement could rise accordingly.
This case reinforces the fact that the Declaration creates uncertainty about the future UK-EU relationship.
There is also uncertainty around the future of our fisheries. We know that some other EU Member States do not want the UK to take back control of our fisheries and while the UK may be getting rid of the CFP, the Declaration is vague about how much control we will really get back. The Declaration notes that the UK will be an “independent coastal state” but it also wraps fisheries into a future trade and economic relationship. It states that: “Within the context of the overall economic partnership the Parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares” (para. 75).
As an independent coastal state, negotiations on access and quota should be dealt with during annual negotiations, as happens with Norway, Iceland and the Faeroe Islands. However, this provision suggests strongly that the EU want to include in full or in part fisheries management in the economic partnership. After more than 40 years of gross mismanagement of our fisheries with devastating effects on fishing communities and the environment, it would be shameful for the EU to continue to exercise control on our fisheries. If this link between the future “overall economic partnership” and fisheries goes into the legal iteration of the Declaration then CFP mark II remains firmly on the cards under this Declaration.
On immigration and illegal immigration, which are important issues to the public, the Declaration keeps control within the EU rather than with the UK. The Declaration contains a section on mobility and while measures to facilitate visa free travel for short term visits (para. 52) may be beneficial, the Declarations seeks to prevent the UK from differentiating between immigration from different Member States (para. 52). It also has a measure on future “social security coordination in light of the future movement of persons” (para. 54) which leaves open the prospect of the EU continuing to decide the rules by which EU nationals can access our benefits and welfare system.
While the EU seeks to exert control over legal migration, the Declaration also has the potential to grant the EU influence over how we deal with illegal migration. It is of course important that there is international cooperation in tackling illegal migration. However, given that the provisions on “cooperating to tackle illegal migration, including its drivers and its consequences, whilst recognising the need to protect the most vulnerable” (para. 116) are linked into the future relationship more UK money, support and housing for illegal migration could be forced through in the negotiations.
Taking back control of our borders was a key manifesto commitment and objective in these negotiations. This Declaration leaves us open to the EU continuing to dictate immigration rules to us.
Just like the Withdrawal Agreement, the Declaration has been written by Brussels, in Brussels, for Brussels. It does not deliver the ‘Equal Partnership’ which the UK Government should have been pursuing, creates uncertainty and once again leaves our country under the thumb of the EU. Given our country’s history, wealth and reputation, we were in a strong position to stand up for the national interest. Instead, the Withdrawal Agreement and Declaration symbolise surrender to Brussels and a diminished country.