Do the government’s proposals concede vassalage, as critics on all sides have assumed?by Stephen Laws / August 10, 2018 / Leave a comment
The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 is now law. The only form of withdrawal to which it gives legal authority is one with no deal on 29th March 2019. No other way forward (including stopping the exit process) is legally or practically possible without both the agreement of the European Union and further proceedings in parliament.
One element of this is that the 2018 Act prevents the ratification of any withdrawal agreement unless there has also been political agreement in principle on “the substance of the framework for the future relationship,” and it has been approved in parliament. The Chequers White Paper sets out the government’s proposals for this, but they have not been well received either by the EU or at home.
The EU has indicated that further concessions will be required. Yet in the UK, there appears to be a significant consensus that the proposals already concede too much: particularly in the direction of allowing the UK to become “a rule-taker” with insufficient influence over the content of the rules.
The aspect of the Chequers proposals that has attracted most criticism along those lines is the concept of a “common rule book” for goods. This has been understood to mean that the UK must accept existing EU rules on goods forever, together with a further permanent obligation to accept any changes unilaterally decided on by the EU in the future.
A close reading of Chapter 4 of the White Paper, however, reveals that to be a misleading oversimplification. Chapter 4 proposes institutional arrangements for the new relationship between the EU and the UK. These include a joint body, comprising representatives from both the EU and the UK. That body would adjudicate, amongst other things, on disputes between the UK and the EU about proposed changes to the “common rule book,” including, seemingly, changes proposed by the UK.
It is also proposed that an “equivalence” principle should be part of the process, making it possible for the “common rule book” to allow the same ends to be achieved, in the EU and in the UK, by different means. In the absence of agreement on a proposed change, parts of the common rule book could be suspended; and it is assumed that…