Brexit Roundup: Where Are We Heading? – New Report

16 April 2018
Report from the Scottish Centre on European Relations (SCER) edited by Dr Kirsty Hughes and Anthony Salamone
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The Scottish Centre on European Relations today (Monday) publishes a new report on the big challenges that line the road ahead for the EU, UK and Scotland as the Brexit process unfolds to its autumn denouement. The report contains analysis from 15 leading experts and commentators from Scotland, Northern Ireland and the EU (a full list of authors is at the end of this release).

Dr Kirsty Hughes (Director of SCER and co-editor of the report with Anthony Salamone, Research Fellow, SCER) said:

“The path from here to an autumn withdrawal agreement is highly uncertain. Our new report makes clear the UK is on a path to a damaging, hard Brexit. And without a deal on the Irish border, the divorce deal could fall apart – and the transition deal with it – a cliff edge still looms.”

She went on:

“As trade talks start, unprecedented in putting new trade barriers in place, the UK could still change its mind and call a further EU referendum – Labour and the SNP for now are refusing to support this. UK politics is failing as it sticks to a passive ‘wait and see’ mode of opposition. And the time to halt Brexit, or even push it to a ‘softer’ Brexit, is running out.”

Key Issues in the Report

1. Trade and Transition: no holds barred trade talks coming up, transition not guaranteed, cliff edge still in prospect, EEA option should not be dismissed, citizens and human rights concerns remain

A trade deal will take much longer to agree than the end of transition in December 2020, writes David Martin MEP. And, he warns, no deal will be as good as the UK currently has inside the EU – indeed “every credible predicted scenario post-Brexit sees the volume of UK/EU trade decline significantly, leaving a massive hole to be filled by trade with the rest of the world.”

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal of Glasgow University, agrees, arguing a comprehensive free trade deal will damage cross-border trade and supply chains; he says that the UK will need to shift from its red lines on free movement and on the role of the European Court of Justice if it is to consider the EEA/EFTA model as the least damaging option.

A transition deal may have been agreed in principle, but it will fall if there is no overall withdrawal agreement not least on governance and dispute settlement, if the UK strays from the terms of the deal, warns Danuta Huebner MEP, chair of the key European Parliament Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Dr Fabian Zuleeg, Chief Executive of the European Policy Centre (and on the First Minister’s Standing Council on Europe) says major hurdles lie ahead – including on the Irish border. The transition period simply shifts the cliff edge to the end of 2020 – and as trade talks start, he warns, there will be no holds barred, as the talks focus on distributing the costs of disintegration. And if the UK does consider the EEA option, surely then the question of why Brexit is happening at all will recur.

Katy Hayward (Reader in sociology, Queen’s University Belfast) says the Irish border is a litmus test for whether the UK understands the implications of leaving the single market and customs union. She insists it is time to move from magical thinking to specific solutions on the Irish border and argues that Brussels’ proposals to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and effectively in the single market for goods, represents a serious and specific outcome.

On EU and UK citizens’ rights, Niamh Nic Shuibhne (Professor of EU law, University of Edinburgh) argues that the UK’s political red lines are blocking any retention of free movement rights, even decoupled from EU citizenship – moving, in material legal terms, from having insider to outsider status pushes at the edges of law and there will be some severe consequences for citizens’ rights.

On human rights, Nicole Busby (Professor of Law, University of Strathclyde) says there are serious concerns the UK government will seek to use the repatriated powers (from the EU) to amend or even repeal human rights and equality laws with little or no Parliamentary scrutiny.

2. Politics, Devolution and Independence: no indyref2 yet but a hard Brexit could shift Scotland’s politics substantially; further EU referendum should not be ruled out; Brussels and EU moving on to other issues

From Brussels, Giles Merritt (Chair of Friends of Europe thinktank) argues the EU27 look on with disbelief as the UK goes ahead with such self-imposed damage. But he insists the EU must stop being distracted by Brexit and put its focus onto the big global challenges it faces not least in relations with China, Russia and the US.

From Finland, Juha Jokela (Research Programme Director at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs) argues that Brexit has pushed Finland to focus on creating a ‘Hanseatic League 2.0’ to push its priority EU reforms and moved its focus away from the UK and Brexit.

Looking at UK politics, Kirsty Hughes (SCER) argues that UK politics is failing – Labour is not holding the May government to account over the many damaging impacts from Brexit, allowing May to run a ‘teflon Brexit’. But she argues the crunch will come in the autumn – if Westminster rejects the Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration on the future UK-EU relationship, all bets are off. The resulting political crisis could lead to a general election and/or a further EU referendum.

In Scotland, uncertainty reigns too. Leading commentator, writer and broadcaster, Iain Macwhirter, argues an early second independence referendum before 2021 is very unlikely – and so Scotland will be on track to be a marginal region of a new Brexit Britain.

Considering the Scottish Conservatives, author and commentator David Torrance suggests Ruth Davidson has managed the fall-out from Brexit well, not least by focusing on anti-independence arguments; but if Brexit turns into a constitutional and economic disaster, Davidson risks being dragged down along with Theresa May.

As May prepares a legal challenge to the ‘continuity bill’, devolution challenges from Brexit are many. Anthony Salamone (SCER) argues Brexit will exacerbate the piecemeal, asymmetric nature of the devolution settlement – a written constitution and proper federal system would be a better route ahead.

From the environment to migration, Scotland will face new policy challenges and some new choices. Sarah Kyambi (research fellow, University of Edinburgh) argues a differentiated migration system is unlikely but would still be preferable as free movement comes to an end. Annalisa Savaresi (lecturer in environmental law, University of Stirling) foresees significant differences between future environmental regulation passed by Holyrood and Westminster, whatever the future overall strategic division of powers between the UK and Scotland.

Full List of Authors/Topics:

1. Overview: UK Politics Adrift over Brexit
Kirsty Hughes

Part I. Key Issues as Brexit Talks Move On

2. The Next Phase of Brexit Negotiations: The Economic Issues
Anton Muscatelli

3. Trade Deals for the UK after Brexit Will Not Be Easy – Comments on the Senior European Experts Report on UK Trade Policy after Brexit
David Martin

4. Avoiding a Hard Irish Border: Time to Move from Magical Thinking to Specific Solutions
Katy Hayward

5. Brexit, Free Movement and the Limits of EU Citizenship
Niamh Nic Shuibhne

6. Transition Cannot Be Taken For Granted
Danuta Hübner

7. Over the Transition Hurdle?
Fabian Zuleeg

8. Human Rights and the Draft Withdrawal Agreement
Nicole Busby

Part II. Brexit, the UK and Scotland – Political and Policy Challenges

9. Brexit and the Environment: Challenges Lying Ahead
Annalisa Savaresi

10. Brexit Creates Uncertain Future for Scotland and Devolution
Anthony Salamone

11. Migration Policy Unclear as Brexit Nears
Sarah Kyambi

12. Scottish Independence: Sturgeon Is Between a Rock and a Hard Brexit 34
Iain Macwhirter

13. The Scottish Conservatives and the Brexit Challenge 38
David Torrance

Part III. EU Priorities beyond Brexit

14. Brexit Is Distracting the EU – and UK – from Its Bigger Problems 40
Giles Merritt

15. Finland Focuses on Its Northern Partners as Brexit Takes the UK out of ‘Northern Lights’ Grouping 42
Juha Jokela


Dr Kirsty Hughes · Director, SCER – Report co-editor
Contact Dr Hughes by email
Anthony Salamone · Research Fellow and Strategic Advisor, SCER – Report co-editor
Contact Mr Salamone by email

The Scottish Centre on European Relations is an independent and unaligned EU think tank, based in Edinburgh.