Article 50 has been formally triggered
To say today has been emotional is an understatement. Watching the Prime Minister speak in the House of Commons concerning the triggering of Article 50 with my colleagues and friends from the Labour group in the European Parliament felt surreal. On the screen was my own country’s Prime Minister, claiming to be a good European, but through her actions today taking away my rights as an EU citizen, rights I have enjoyed and benefitted from since I was born in 1973. Brexit is personal.
It will come as no surprise that I believe the UK is stronger remaining part of the EU, just as I believe Scotland is stronger remaining part of the UK. Unfortunately, those who currently hold power and are in government, do not share my viewpoint. In the UK, the Tory Government is taking the UK out of the EU, whilst the nationalist government in Scotland is proposing a second Scottish independence referendum taking Scotland out of the UK. We certainly live in ‘interesting times.’
The PM has now officially sent her Article 50 letter. Next follows Donald Tusk’s reaction and the draft resolution on Brexit from the European Parliament to be voted on next week. It will be made increasingly clear; the power in negotiations rests with the EU27, not the UK. The PM’s Article 50 letter shows that she desires the divorce settlement and future trading relationship to be negotiated alongside one another. Though, for months now the EU27 and the European Parliament have been clear; the divorce settlement has to be agreed before any formal talks on the future relationship can begin. Why has the UK Government been ignoring this important detail?
So, what are the key issues of the divorce from the EU? I believe there are two main areas which both the UK and EU agree on that require to be resolved and which could be resolved quickly if the political will is there. Firstly, EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU. I have been deeply disappointed and frustrated by Theresa May’s inaction on EU citizens’ rights in the UK. The PM could have resolved this issue but is instead using EU citizens as a bargaining chip in the negotiations. This reflects poorly on the UK. Their status needs to be spelt out – will they be treated as equals or not? Will their existing and accumulated rights be protected and vice versa for UK citizens in the EU?
Secondly, the costs of the UK leaving the EU. It is vitally important to be clear that leaving the EU comes with a bill. When you have been a member of a club for 43 years and have made financial commitments which you are liable for, you have a contractual duty to meet your financial obligations. If I decided not to pay my VISA bill or mortgage, there are financial penalties and consequences to my actions. Brexit is no different. The estimated liabilities are around sixty billion euros. It may need an independent adjudicator to be involved in order to get the right settlement in order that neither the UK nor EU lose face. What is clear, the EU27 will have a unified position on this point whilst the UK will have to explain clearly the costs to those who were promised £350million a week to help fund the NHS if they voted to leave the EU.
Once the citizens’ rights and the divorce costs are settled, the subject of transitional arrangements will be able to be determined. This would help provide a breathing space between being a full member and moving to a new relationship as a third country out with the EU. The PM says in her Article 50 letter she wants a Free Trade Agreement. However, the ball is in the EU27 court to determine what kind of Free Trade Agreement they would be willing to negotiate. If Canada is a model, it took at least seven years to negotiate. Would a new trade agreement with the UK take the same time or less? No-one knows. If the UK is trying to strike trade agreements across the globe at the same time as it is trying to strike a trade agreement with the EU, it could potentially take longer as political capital is stretched far and wide. This makes transitional arrangements vitally important to have in place before the UK formally leaves the EU.
It has been a sad day for the UK. This is not a day for celebration but a day of reflection. How did my country get to the place where it is severing ties with the most successful peace process the world has ever known to embark on a journey which could potentially lead to the break-up of Britain? For now, I will hold the British Prime Minister to account. No-one in Britain voted to put their job at risk or to be poorer because of BREXIT. The deal she strikes has to be equivalent of what we enjoy now. The clock today has formally started to count down to the moment the UK leaves the EU. All eyes should be focused on the Tory Government and their action.
Our future as a country depends on it.