As the UK marks the first anniversary of the referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EU, where are we now? While the focus remains on three fundamental issues – the UK’s bill for existing commitments on leaving the EU, citizenship for EU citizens including those from the UK, and thirdly the Good Friday Agreement for Northern Ireland – when will there be any discussions on issues that affect planning?
In the period since last June, the EU has been making its preparations. It has appointed its team and set out its approach to dealing with negotiation. What do we know of the UK’s position? The Prime Minister set out her objectives in a speech at Lancaster House and subsequently published a Great Repeal Bill White Paper which says much the same. Following the General Election, where the Prime Minister sought but did not receive a greater mandate for negotiation, the Queen’s Speech has identified a range of Brexit bills and a cancellation of the Queen’s Speech for 2018. If this is a bit opaque, there is a helpful accompanying explanatory document prepared for the press which indicates what it all means.
So in practical terms, where are we?
1. When will the UK leave the EU?
As things stand, this is Friday 29th March 2019. However, this date can be extended by agreement of both sides. Also, the UK can withdraw Article 50 at any time until that date and the situation reverts to the legal status quo although the relationships may subsequently differ in practical terms.
2. When will we know what the leaving deal will be?
This will be six months before on Monday 29th October 2018. This date has been set to allow all member states including regional Parliaments, where these have a role, together with the European institutions to consider and approve the proposed deal.
3. Will the UK Parliament get a say on the final deal?
Yes, but the scale of their role will depend on how the government puts the motion and any agreements achieved through the hung Parliament. It also appears likely that the Scottish Parliament will also be able to vote on the proposed deal and some have suggested that this might give the Scottish Parliament a potential veto on the proposed arrangements. This seems unclear, although the position of the thirteen Conservative MPs elected in Scotland could be more influential in a hung Parliament.
4. How will the negotiations be conducted?
The UK has accepted the EU's approach - that is that each round of discussion will be run on a four-week cycle. This allows for preliminary consideration of the issues and identification of areas of agreement or disagreement, a week to take back issues for discussion, a third week of negotiation and then a fourth for interim sign off. However, nothing is finally agreed until everything is agreed.
5. Which issues will be dealt with first?
While the UK has always wanted post-Brexit trade discussions to run in parallel with the divorce settlement, the EU has refused this from the outset as conducting such parallel discussions is outside binding World Trade Organization rules. So in these first rounds will be the agreement of the UK’s outstanding net debt to the EU, citizenship rights of all EU citizens including those in the UK, and lastly issues related to Northern Ireland. The latter are more important than most people in Whitehall and Westminster understand. The EU is one of the four signatories of the Good Friday Agreement alongside the UK, the Irish and US governments. Secondly, the border on the island of Ireland will be the only land border between the EU and the UK. Thirdly, the Common Travel Area for the island of Ireland also needs to be maintained creating a border conundrum.
6. When will the environmental issues appear in the negotiations?
Some environment issues will not enter the discussions at all as they are agreed by the UK and the member states with the United Nations and then the EU ensure that they are delivered using legislation. Some environmental issues in relation to trade and competition rules for tendering will remain the same as they are agreed by the UK and all other member states through treaties with the World Trade Organisation. Again, the EU provides the local mechanism for ensuring compliance. The UK will still have to adhere to these commitments whether in or out of the EU.
Any UK organization or company working with any similar organization within the EU will have to use EU regulations even if they are not in effect in the UK post- Brexit. Here it is important to remember that the Great Repeal Bill will transpose EU legislation into UK legislation but this will change over time. Also EU legislation is underpinned by treaties and therefore continues in perpetuity while UK legislation only has a technical life of the length of any Parliament – that is subsequent Parliaments are not bound by the decisions of previous ones.
7. When will transport appear in the negotiations?
The EU’s policies and proposals for transport sit within its principles of social, territorial and economic cohesion ie in promoting spatial equity and reducing differences between places and through the delivery of the single market. For transport, there will be several effects including the loss of the current designations for the Trans European Networks which will affect the corridor projects in the UK such as the A14, HS2/3 and Crossrail. This will imply that each project will need to go back to Planning Inquiries to establish the principle of development in a move away from inquisitorial to adversarial approaches to scheme approvals. The EU is currently requesting member states to identify comprehensive networks within these core networks – such as the Oxford to Cambridge corridor recently proposed by the National Infrastructure Commission and the corridors recently set out by Transport for the North .
At local level, transport will be affected by the support that has been given to sustainable urban mobility plans (SUMPS) which are mandatory in the UK, launched in Bristol and already adopted by a number of city areas across the UK including Glasgow, Thurrock, Greater Manchester, Norwich, and Wrexham.
8. Growth Deals, Devolution, City Deals – what will happen to these?
While the government could continue with these deals, the principles of subsidiarity, as well as fairness as above, on which they are based will be lost when we leave as they are enshrined in EU treaties. While there will be much discussion on the single market and the customs union, these will have no influence on these principles on which several key reforms are founded in the UK including devolution, localism, neighbourhood planning and combined authorities. Again, if these are adopted by the UK Government, they can only be assured for the period of one Parliament unless the UK moves to a written constitution. In terms of devolution, the Great Repeal Bill White Paper already indicates that there will be a recentralised approach to the environmental, transport and agriculture.
9. Will there be any other effects in planning delivery?
Yes – there will be a loss of access to funding such as the European Investment Bank and the European Strategic Investment Fund. Further, the EU is just turning its attention again to approaches to strategic planning and integrated regulations. These are about to emerge in the next programme period 2021-2027 but the UK will not be part of these.
10. What happens if the UK goes for a Norway model?
While the Norway model provides the maintenance of most EU legislation and access to the Single Market, it doesn’t deal with the issues on transport and planning which are driven by the core treaties. These will not apply once we leave. There could be a special deal on this, which could make it binding, but the UK would then not be able to engage in the development and negotiation of the policy and would also have to accept any proposals that are made by the EU. The Norway position is the one that many people who voted to leave the EU appear to believe that we were in before the referendum i.e. being told what to do by the EU rather than being an equal partner in all discussions and agreements. So, if we go down this route, those in favour of remain will achieve the very relationship those voted for Brexit were seeking to leave.
So, what next?
Who knows? Each day brings a fresh issue to consider. However, if current trends and polls are correct, a soft Brexit to remain position is now appearing to emerge as the most favoured by the electorate. With a hung Parliament anything can and probably will happen…
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