The countdown until the British withdrawal from the EU has started: next week already, half-time for the two-year negotiations on Brexit, which the United Kingdom has launched with her Notification of Withdrawal from 29th March 2017, will be reached. This week (19 March 2018), EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier and UK Brexit Minister David Davis presented - as they both called it - a “decisive step” on the way to a joint legal text for the Withdrawal Bill.
Recently, on 28th February 2018, the EU side had significantly increased the pressure on the UK negotiators and single-handedly presented a draft of a 130-pages withdrawal bill text. This week, both negotiation partners presented a revised text; an intermediate status for a treaty text on a Withdrawal Bill. New are the coloured markings: following the traffic light system, larger parts of the text were made green (“agreement”) and some sections (“agreement in principle with need for clarification”). However, the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” is still being emphasised.
“Complete agreement” on parts of the Withdrawal Bill text
This week, “complete agreement” was presented with regard to “Citizens' rights” and “Finance”. In respect of citizens’ rights, the United Kingdom has now accepted that citizens, who arrive in the United Kingdom and the EU respectively after Brexit, but during the transition period, will have the same citizens’ rights as those who arrived before Brexit. According to the UK Office for Budgetary Responsibility, the United Kingdom might have to pay the EU 37 billion Euro until 2064.
Agreement has also been reached concerning the “Duration of the transition period“. It shall last 21 months and end in December 2020. During the transition period, the United Kingdom continues to be obliged to adhere to the entire EU Acquis; however, she is no longer involved in any decision-making processes. However, the United Kingdom will be permitted during the transition phase to sign new trade agreements of her own. However, these agreements may only be implemented after the transition period has expired. UK Brexit-Minister Davis called the fact that “for the first time in more than 40 years”, UK will be able to sign new trade deals as “one of the greatest opportunities of Brexit”.
Diverging opinions on Ireland/Northern Ireland and Governance
There are still significant differences in opinion concerning the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland as well as in respect to Governance, the role of the ECJ and the British participation in Euratom, Eurojust and Europol. The draft bill drawn up by the EU provides for integrating a backstop, according to which Northern Ireland shall remain in the EU Customs Union, provided a better solution is not found to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern. However, meanwhile the United Kingdom has at least accepted that the Withdrawal Bill requires legal clarity to avoid a hard border.
Another current study, which was also presented this week, showed that a hard Brexit would affect the poorest Irish households the most: the cost of living would rise by 2-3.1 % (892-1,360 Euro per household); price increases for bread and cereal products could be up to 30 %; for milk, cheese and eggs even up to 46 %.
In a next step, the state of the negotiations must now be approved by the EU heads of state and government at this week’s European Council (22 & 23 March). The negotiators are pressed for time: the text has to be completed by late autumn in order to reach the Member State ratification process. In addition, the European Council shall also determine guidelines for the framework for future relations. The framework for future relations shall be added to the Withdrawal Bill in form of a political declaration. Related to this, the EU Parliament has adopted a Resolution on 14th March 2018, in which it has already described its perspective for the future cooperation of the EU with the United Kingdom.
Save the Date: AK-ÖGB event on Brexit
On 11th April 2018, the Chamber of Labour and the Austrian Trade Union Federation will also devote an event in Brussels to Brexit, whereby the focus will be on the possible effects of Brexit on employees and the labour law. Many standards of the British labour law are based on EU Directives. There are concerns, that these, as soon as those standards are no longer protected by European law, they will be watered down or even repealed. This could – against the background of the negotiations on an agreement on future cooperation – lead to a downwards spiral and increased pressure also on European labour law.
The Chamber of Labour argues that a future agreement has to include guarantees against unfair tax, social, environmental and regulation measures. This is exactly what has been determined in the Guidelines of the European Council for the Brexit negotiations from April 2017. This requirement must now be actually implemented.