Lord Owen speaking to the Institute of Policy Research, University of Bath, 18 January 2018.
Full text here: Bath18.1.18
The EU-UK negotiations over a Withdrawal Agreement from the EU have gone far enough to show we can find a way for a smooth, not a hard, exit. That is an exit with a sufficient period to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement that does cover financial services, the largest part of the UK economy, and sets the parameters of an ambitious Free Trade Agreement, giving sufficient time during a transition to adapt to WTO trading.
It will need a greater sense of national unity to achieve; a greater readiness on this issue of overwhelming national importance to put to one side party politics or personal preferences. In addition, we need provision in case there is no agreement by October 2018 for a more limited, less ambitious default transition before embarking on WTO trading in 2021.
The EU-UK document ‘On Progress During Phase 1 of Negotiations Under Article 50 TEU on the United Kingdom’s Orderly Withdrawal from the European Union’ which was published on 8 December 2017 is a sensible document.
Drawing on my experience of the EU since 1976 I judge it will be impossible to get the European Council to change its position adapted on 15 December without the UK proposing a detailed ‘managed divergence’ approach to the Single Market in the transition.
In responding, therefore, to the EU wish for the Withdrawal Agreement to be “clearly defined and precisely limited in time” the UK Government would be wise to state now that they are ready to rely for legislative purposes during the transition chiefly upon the European Economic Area Agreement during the transition to which we are a contracting party. This does not resolve all issues – transitory status quo arrangements for agriculture and fisheries will still be required – also while the Customs Union is allowed under the EEA neither Norway, Sweden nor Liechtenstein thought it necessary to take it up. The Withdrawal Agreement it is clear from the outset is for the transition and no longer than the transition period which is currently planned to end no later than 30 December 2020. We can set aside legal arguments as to whether or not a contracting party to the EEA Agreement ceases to be one if they leave the EU by making provision for the small amendments that make it clear that the UK will continue to be a contracting party to the EEAA within the Withdrawal Agreement. As such an amended EEA Agreement will respect our sovereignty, as it does for Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
On Tuesday 16 January Professor Baudenbacher, a judge of the EFTA Court and President until last year, in giving evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee indicated that the EEA-EFTA option for the UK’s transition period using its Protocol procedures for amendment is potentially feasible, even given the short timescale.
This EEA transition option plainly gives the UK more power and control over subsequent developments than would the European Council’s proposal of last December. But it would also be easier for EU members. It follows precedent and in some parts would be bespoke but it means much of the legal provision is contained in a well understood international treaty with its own legal framework. It ought to unite all shades of Leave opinion, and attract some Remainers who recognise the need in practical negotiations to start to respect the referendum decision.
Full text here: Bath18.1.18