Brexit Brief: Cherry Picking But No Picnic

Posted on 8th March 2018

EU rejects “cherry-picking” (again)

Leading EU politicians have lined up to say the UK’s suggested framework for their future relationship should be rejected as “cherry-picking”.  Speaking on Friday in London’s Mansion House, British Prime Minister Theresa May set out the government’s “three-baskets” view.  May suggested that there be a comprehensive framework allowing some British sectors, such as broadcasting, to maintain near-identical regulations as the EU in return for similar levels of market access, while others would be free to diverge.  A middle ground would exist for sectors such as digital industries, where the UK would seek the same regulatory aims but would be free to implement them differently.  May said that if this type of trade deal were cherry-picking, all types were.  Nevertheless, the presidents of both the European Council and the European Parliament gave press conferences Wednesday to say this position was incompatible with EU principles.

Data flows are now a priority

In a less-noticed part of the speech, May said she would seek to incorporate a data flows agreement directly into the future framework.  While the government had been seeking an adequacy decision, under which the EU would judge whether the UK met its data-protection standards, the prime minister said she would seek something more to provide maximum certainty.  On this, there is rare convergence. The European Parliament’s and European Council’s guidelines both recognise the importance of the issue – but only recommend an adequacy assessment.  Under the adequacy framework, the EU has the power and obligation to review such decisions and revoke them if data-protection standards fall below EU law.

Irish border questions intensify

The UK-Irish border has again caused a great deal of difficulty for the British negotiating position going into the second phase of talks.  British Conservative MEPs accused the EU of “intolerable interference” in British domestic affairs after the European Commission’s draft withdrawal agreement suggested Northern Ireland continue to remain in the customs union unless an alternative solution was found.  In effect, unless the UK agreed to stay in the customs union as a whole, or found a solution that has so far eluded negotiators, this would draw a trading border in the middle of the Irish Sea.  While this would avoid a hard border in the island of Ireland, May’s majority in the House of Commons depends on her rejecting any intra-UK trading barriers.  May used her Mansion House speech to repeat her suggestion of a technologically-driven border that ensures no physical infrastructure and that Britain “takes back control” of its trading policies.  The Irish government has suggested this would be unlikely to be unacceptable to the EU-27.

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