Ten Big Brexit Issues: Questions for the General Election

Kirsty Hughes | 12 May 2017

© 2017 SCER

Given the EU27 stance on Brexit talks, and the range of positions across the UK’s political parties, what are the key questions to ask on Brexit during the general election?

EU27 and UK Priorities

The Brexit talks will broadly cover three main areas: the UK-EU27 divorce, the new trade and security deal between the UK and EU27, and the transition phase to get from the UK’s exit in March 2019 to a future trade deal possibly several years later. The EU27 have set their three top priorities for the exit talks as: the rights of EU citizens in the UK & UK citizens in the EU; the UK’s budget liabilities on leaving the EU; and Northern Ireland – ensuring a soft border and not undermining the Good Friday Agreement. Only then will they talk trade, they say.

Theresa May has set her priorities for a future trade deal to include: leaving the EU’s single market and customs union, having a UK migration policy (not being part of the EU’s free movement of people) and not coming under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. UKIP’s policies are in line with this too. Labour wants a deal that is as good as the EU’s single market but without being in it, possibly being in the customs union, but no longer accepting free movement of people.

The Lib Dems and English/Welsh Greens would prefer a soft Brexit, staying in the EU’s single market and accepting free movement of people. The SNP and Scottish Greens would prefer independence in the EU – or at least a soft Brexit for the UK as a whole or for Scotland on its own while still in the UK (the latter proposal rejected by Theresa May).

Given these EU27 and UK political party positions, ten key areas for questions are suggested here.

Ten Key Areas for Brexit Questioning

(1) EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU

– Do you support EU citizens in the UK having the same rights they have now (to residence, pensions, being joined by family members, benefits, European Court of Justice role to ensure their rights are protected etc)?

– If not, what rights would you give them, and would you expect the EU27 to accept your proposal?

(2) The UK’s Bill

– How much do you think the UK’s exit liabilities are? Would you pay them? If not, why not?

– If the UK budget liabilities to the EU are shown genuinely to be €50-100 billion, would you agree to those being paid? If not, why not?

(3) Borders: Northern Ireland and Scotland

– Do you think a ‘soft’ border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (with cameras, with customs paperwork to be done somewhere even if not at the border) will be politically and technically feasible or politically damaging or technically infeasible?

– If Scotland were an independent country in the EU, would any economic/customs barriers between it and the rest of the UK (for goods and agriculture) be identical to those between the UK and EU27? If not, why not?

(4) Repatriation of EU law: Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

– Do you support EU powers on agriculture, fisheries and environment being fully returned to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? If so, how would that work? If not, how would that work?

(5) UK migration policy: costs and benefits

– If the UK has its own separate migration policy, no longer participating in freedom of movement of people across the EU, will the EU27 offer the UK a less good trade deal than otherwise? If so, what will the economic costs of that be? If not, why would the EU offer an equally good deal irrespective of migration policy?

– If the UK government, after the election, set soft Brexit as its goal, keeping the UK in the EU’s single market (with free movement of people) and in its customs union, what are the economic and political costs and benefits of this compared to full EU membership and compared to a bespoke UK-EU27 trade deal?

(6) Future UK-EU27 Trade Deal

– Do you think a bespoke UK-EU-27 trade deal inevitably means less access to the EU’s single market than the UK has now? If not, why not? If yes, what will the economic costs of that be?

– When UK firms export to or operate in the EU post-Brexit, they must meet its regulations. What regulations would you see as most important to change after March 2019 for firms only operating in the UK domestic market? Do you see these as some of the key benefits of Brexit?

– How long do you think it would take the UK to renegotiate existing EU trade deals that cover almost sixty countries around the world?

– How many new trade deals (excluding the renegotiation of ones the UK is in due to its EU membership) do you expect the UK to have successfully negotiated by 2022? What will the economic benefit of those deals be and how does that compare to any reduction in UK-EU27 trade due to not being a full member of the EU’s single market?

(7) Transition Phase

– Would you support the UK staying in the European Economic Area (i.e. free movement of people, EFTA court) for a transition period from March 2019 until the comprehensive UK-EU27 trade deal is agreed and ratified? If so, for how long? If not, what are the key elements of a transition deal – and for how long?

– Should the UK stay in the customs union during the transition phase? If so, when would you want the UK to leave the customs union and start negotiating its own trade deals?

– If the UK doesn’t stay in the customs union, do you envisage there being adequate customs space at ports and airports by March 2019. If there would not be adequate space, what transition arrangements would you propose?

(8) Irretrievable Breakdown of Talks

– If the talks break down, and there is no deal, what impact would a ‘WTO cliff’ have on the UK economically and politically? Will there be a major crisis – if so, what could be done to alleviate this? If not, why not?

– If the talks break down irretrievably, would you support either staying in the EU after all or trading with the EU on WTO terms? Would you support having a referendum on this? If not, why not?

(9) Letting the Public Vote on or before the Deal

– Do you support a referendum once the exit deal is agreed in late 2018 on accepting the deal or staying in the EU after all? If not, why not?

(10) Brexit Overall

– Overall, do you think Brexit will be positive or negative for the UK? In the House of Commons, will you continue to support Brexit or argue for the UK public and government to think again?

Kirsty HughesKirsty Hughes | Twitter

Scottish Centre on European Relations

Dr Kirsty Hughes is Director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations. She is a researcher, writer and commentator on European politics and policy, and she previously worked for a number of leading European think tanks.