Friday 30 June 2017

The Brexit talks: opening positions on the status of UK and EU citizens

Professor Steve Peers*


One of the most high-profile issues relating to Brexit, which could potentially have the biggest direct impact on the lives of the greatest number of people, is the issue of what happens to UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in UK after Brexit. This is one of the first issues to be addressed in Brexit talks, and both sides have now adopted their positions: the EU in the form of a Council decision on the mandate for the Commission negotiators, back on May 22, and the UK in the form of a UK government proposal, released on June 26. As we can see from these dates, it’s entirely false to suggest (as the UK Foreign Secretary has done, for instance) that this UK government proposal came first, with no EU position yet: it’s quite the opposite. (Equally it’s false to suggest, as the Brexit Secretary does, that among the EU institutions, only the EU Commission is demanding that the ECJ have a role in the agreement).

This EU position also covers the issues of the financial consequences of Brexit and its purely transitional aspects (ie court cases pending on Brexit Day), which no published UK proposal has addressed yet. However, I will focus solely on the citizens’ rights issues for now. For the sake of simplicity, the relevant parts of the EU position are repeated in the Annex to this blog post.

There is a basic choice to be made whether the position of UK and EU citizens after Brexit is based on the ‘acquired rights’ approach (ie retaining their status under EU law) or an approach based on equality with nationals. As we will see, the EU takes the former approach, while the UK takes the latter, even though during the referendum campaign the Leave side promised acquired rights to both EU citizens in the UK (‘no change’, ‘no less favourable’) and UK citizens in the EU.

The EU position

Basically, the EU position follows the ‘acquired rights’ approach, adopting a broad interpretation of that concept to include rights which will vest in future as well as those ‘in the process of being obtained’, specifically permanent residence status which can be obtained under EU free movement law after five years’ continuous legal residence. It explicitly covers both EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, including those who previously resided on one side or the other. Protection will be based on equal treatment compared to nationals – reflecting the second option for approaching the issue – for the lifetime of each person, via ‘smooth and simple administrative procedures’.

The EU position goes on to define the personal scope of the deal: those covered by the EU citizens’ Directive (workers, self-employed and economically inactive people – implicitly subject to the limits in the Directive for ‘benefit tourists’, as discussed here), also including family members who arrive before or after Brexit Day. It will also repeat the scope of the EU social security Regulation, which addresses social security coordination in cross-border situations as distinct from immigration status, including frontier workers (ie those who work in the UK but live in France, or vice versa). 

The material scope of the deal (ie the rights to be protected) should include residence rights based on the Treaties or the citizens’ Directive, as well as the procedural rules on documenting those rights; the social security coordination rules, including export of benefits and cumulating social security contributions made in different countries; the supplementary rights in the Regulation on free movement of workers, including workers’ children’s access to education; access to self-employment; and recognition of qualifications which were obtained before Brexit Day or which are in the process of being recognised on that date.  

As for enforcement, the EU side wants this issue to be enforced by the ECJ, and the rules in the withdrawal agreement to be enforced in accordance with pre-Brexit case law of the Court. A separate position paper makes clear that this refers to all of the Court’s current jurisdiction, in particular references from national courts to the ECJ and Commission challenges to the UK.

The UK position

Firstly, the UK paper states that it will not alter the Common Travel Area arrangements between the UK and Ireland (and the Crown Dependencies), including ‘the rights of British and Irish citizens in each others’ countries rooted in the Ireland Act 1949’. To that end, ‘Irish citizens residing in the UK will not need to apply for settled status to protect their entitlements’. (It should be noted that some have questioned how much the Ireland Act in fact protects Irish citizens’ immigration status in the UK).

Next, the document suggests its legal form: the government ‘undertakes to treat EU citizens in the UK according to the principles below, in the expectation that the EU will offer reciprocal treatment for UK nationals resident in its member states’. It’s not clear if this is a unilateral offer conditioned on the assumption that the EU side will match it, or whether it is a proposal to be subject to negotiations with the view to being included in the withdrawal treaty. (At some other points, the document refers to ‘negotiations’ and to an ‘international law’, however).

In detail, the UK government states first that it will comply with EU free movement law until Brexit Day. Next, post-Brexit it ‘will create new rights in UK law for qualifying EU citizens resident here before our exit. Those rights will be enforceable in the UK legal system and will provide legal guarantees for these EU citizens’, alongside ‘commitments in the Withdrawal Agreement which will have the status of international law’. The paper rules out ‘jurisdiction in the UK’ for the ECJ. Furthermore, the government paper pledges to treat ‘all EU citizens equally’ compared to each other, although it is not clear how this fits with the special dispensation for Ireland referred to at the outset. 

While ‘qualifying EU citizens will have to apply for their residence status’, the ‘administrative procedures’ to this end ‘will be modernised and kept as smooth and simple as possible’. But this will be a national process: ‘a separate legal scheme, in UK law, rather than the current one for certifying the exercise of rights under EU law’. This means that the UK government ‘will tailor the eligibility criteria so that, for example, we will no longer require evidence that economically inactive EU citizens have previously held “comprehensive sickness insurance” in order to be considered continuously resident’. The words ‘for example’ there suggest that there might be other (unspecified) differences between the criteria for obtaining status in the UK for EU citizens.

As part of the process, ‘all qualifying EU citizens will be given adequate time to apply for their new residence status after’ Brexit. This will take the form of a ‘guarantee that qualifying individuals will be granted “settled status” in UK law (indefinite leave to remain pursuant to the Immigration Act 1971).’ This means ‘they will be free to reside in any capacity and undertake any lawful activity, to access public funds and services and to apply for British citizenship’.

To get this status, ‘the EU citizen must have been resident in the UK before a specified date’, which is yet to be defined; but it will be in between March 29 2017 when the Article 50 letter was sent, and March 29 2019, Brexit Day (the government is expressly intending to negotiate this with the EU). They must also ‘have completed a period of five years’ continuous residence in the UK before they apply for settled status, at which point they must still be resident’. Since the criteria are national, not based on EU law, the calculation of this period might differ. As for ‘those EU citizens who arrived and became resident before the specified date’ but who have not accrued five years’ continuous residence on Brexit Day, they ‘will be able to apply for temporary status in order to remain resident in the UK until they have accumulated five years, after which they will be eligible to apply for settled status’. 

On the other hand, those EU citizens who arrive after the [un]specified date ‘will be allowed to remain in the UK for at least a temporary period and may become eligible to settle permanently, depending on their circumstances – but this group should have no expectation of guaranteed settled status’. This category of people will therefore be treated quite differently than under the EU proposal.
As for family members, any ‘family dependants’ who join a qualifying EU citizen in the UK before Brexit ‘will be able to apply for settled status after five years’ (including where the five years falls after our exit), irrespective of the specified date’. Again, it is unclear what the definition of ‘family members’ will be. However, family members arriving after Brexit will be subject to the same immigration rules as the family of UK citizens, ‘or alternatively to the post-exit immigration arrangements for EU citizens who arrive after the specified date’. This suggests a willingness to negotiate special rules on this issue with the EU.

There will be an exclusion for ‘those who are serious or persistent criminals and those whom we consider a threat to the UK’; this might not match the rules permitting exclusion of criminals and security threats set out in the EU legislation and ECJ case law. As for ‘benefits, pensions, healthcare, economic and other rights, in the expectation that these rights will be reciprocated by EU member states, the Government intends that:’ settled EU citizens ‘will continue to have access to UK benefits on the same basis as a comparable UK national under domestic law’; those EU citizens who arrived before the specified date will ‘continue to be able to access the same benefits that they can access now – (broadly, equal access for workers/the self-employed and limited access for those not working)’, on their route to settled status. If they later get settled status, they will have access to benefits ‘on the same terms as comparable UK residents’. Also, export of benefits to the EU ‘will be protected for those who are exporting such UK benefits on the specified date, including child benefit, subject to on-going entitlement to the benefit’. (Note that the right to export benefits will implicitly not be offered to those who arrive after the specified date).

Furthermore, ‘the UK will continue to export and uprate the UK State Pension within the EU’; this mainly concerns UK citizens retiring abroad, but some EU citizens will have acquired such rights from their UK employment too.  Other forms of social security coordination will continue, including aggregation of national insurance contributions for UK benefits and state pensions, even if granted after Brexit, and healthcare arrangements set out in UK and EU law; in particular, the UK will ‘seek to protect the ability of individuals who are eligible for a UK European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before the specified date to continue to benefit from free, or reduced cost, needs-arising healthcare while on a temporary stay in the EU’. Negotiations on ‘an ongoing arrangement akin to the EHIC scheme’ are planned, but there is no reference to negotiations on the other social security issues, even though it may prove technically and administratively difficult to aggregate contributions and pay benefits without a formal basis for cooperation. It is not clear if the UK plans to continue applying any of the relevant EU legislation as such; if it does not, negotiations and implementation of the rules will be more complicated.

Next, as regards education, the UK government ‘will ensure qualifying EU citizens who arrived in the UK before the specified date will continue to be eligible for Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE) student loans and ‘home fee’ status in line with persons with settled status in the UK’, as well as maintenance support (where it exists) ‘on the same basis they do now’. Equal treatment in tuition fees will still apply to those EU students who are enrolled during the 2017/18 and 2018/19 academic years ‘for the duration of their course’, along with ‘a parallel right to remain in the UK’ for those students ‘to complete their course’. (There’s no reference to a right to stay for other purposes after Brexit). The UK government ‘will seek to ensure that citizens with professional qualifications obtained in the EU27 prior to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will continue to have those qualifications recognised in the UK (and vice versa)’. This matches the EU position, albeit with more equivocal language.

As for documentation, EU citizens will need to obtain evidence of ‘settled status’ eventually, but they do not need to apply now, although an application process will be set up prior to Brexit ‘to enable those who wish to do so to get their new status at their earliest convenience’. Those who have already got documentation of permanent residence will have to apply again, but ‘we will seek to make sure that the application process for settled status is as streamlined as possible’. Fees will be set ‘at a reasonable level’. There will be a grace period of perhaps two years while all EU citizens resident under the old system have an opportunity to transition to the new one. If they fail to apply to be covered by the new system, they lose their permission to stay.

Finally, the UK will ‘discuss similar arrangements with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland’ which are also subject to free movement rules ‘on a reciprocal basis’.

As for UK citizens in the EU, the government says they ‘must be able to attain a right equivalent to settled status in the country in which they reside’ and ‘continue to access benefits and services across the member states akin to the way in which they do now.’ The UK will also seek to ensure their continued right to establishment and cross-border provision of services within the EU.


Since the EU position refers to the continuation of existing law, there are few ambiguities in its meaning (besides those inherent in that existing law anyway – for instance, the exact status of same-sex marriages is pending before the ECJ, as discussed here). There are still some vague points, however. Firstly, is the reference to those who have previously resided in the EU or UK meant to be free-standing, or does it simply refer to the more detailed rules set out in the EU legislation referred to? (For instance, a UK pensioner living in Spain might be receiving a UK pension on the basis of contributions made some years ago). 

Secondly, it seems that the reference to rights based on the Treaties covers non-EU parents of UK children in the UK, ie the so-called Ruiz Zambrano cases (see further discussion here). Thirdly, would UK citizens resident in the EU on Brexit Day still retain the right of free movement between Member States – ie would a UK citizen in France on that day retain full free movement rights to move on to Germany in future? Finally, how would each side distinguish between those UK and EU citizens with acquired rights on Brexit Day, and those (principally those who move afterward) who do not have such rights?

In comparison, the UK position is necessarily vaguer, since it does not refer to EU law as such. As noted above, therefore, some of its key features are unclear, notably the definition of the grounds for ‘settled’ status, the scope of persons who might be excluded from that status, and family members. Much of the UK position uses ‘weasel words’ like ‘seek to ensure’ or ‘akin’.

To the extent that its content can be discerned, the UK position is indisputably offering worse terms both for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU. First of all, the cut-off date in the EU position is Brexit Day, whereas it might be earlier in the UK position. The UK suggests that EU citizens in the UK might not be treated equally even if they have permanent residence status by the cut-off date, since they will have to transfer to settled status; the application process to that end would not be necessary in the EU position. While the UK will exempt people from the requirement to have Comprehensive Sickness Insurance, it has been argued that the current UK law on this point breaches EU law anyway.

For those EU citizens who do not have settled status by the cut-off date, or who arrive after the cut-off date but before Brexit Day, they will be worse off than under the EU proposal, since they will not be covered by EU free movement law as regards the acquisition of EU permanent residence status. All categories of EU citizen will have a diminished right to family reunion after Brexit Day.

For UK citizens in the EU, the UK position that they should get settled status in the relevant EU country would not necessarily ensure a right equivalent to EU free movement law permanent residence status. Moreover, those who have not obtained such status as of Brexit Day will not necessarily be able to obtain it as easily as EU citizens do, since free movement law would no longer apply. The word ‘akin’ as regards equal treatment is also vague. While the UK would aim to keep their right of establishment and freedom to provide services, there is no reference to the broader free movement rights arguably inferred by the EU position.

The two sides obviously also differ on the role of the ECJ: it would keep its full current role under the EU proposal, while lose its jurisdiction in the UK under the UK proposal. The latter would leave it with jurisdiction over UK citizens in the EU, and arguably a possible limited role in dispute settlement. Note that the UK implicitly is willing to consider an alternative method of dispute settlement: this could be a new court, a form or arbitration, or use of the existing EFTA Court, which applies EU internal market and related law in Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, subject to a requirement to apply ECJ case law adopted before the date of the agreement and to take later case law into account. (This latter requirement matches the EU position, and nearly matches the UK plans for the Great Repeal Bill).

Taken as a whole then, the UK position is much vaguer and offers significantly less to both EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU than the EU position does, although the gap is much wider for those who do not yet have EU permanent residence status. There is also an enforcement gap as regards the role of the ECJ, although there are precedents (notably the EFTA Court, agreements with Switzerland and Turkey) for the EU not insisting that its citizens living outside the EU have their rights enforced by the ECJ. Any compromise would most likely be based on: a) the EU side accepting an alternative means of enforcement of rights other than the ECJ; b) a cut off date of Brexit Day; and c) the two sides agreeing to base protection on the acquired rights approach with certain exceptions (family members admitted after Brexit, more stringent rules for those with criminal convictions).

*This blog post was supported by an ESRC Priority Brexit Grant on 'Brexit and UK and EU Immigration Policy'

Barnard & Peers: chapter 27
Photo credit: Business Mirror


EU negotiation position

20 The Agreement should safeguard the status and rights derived from Union law at the withdrawal date, including those the enjoyment of which will intervene at a later date (e.g. rights related to old age pensions) as well as rights which are in the process of being obtained, including the possibility to acquire them under current conditions after the withdrawal date (e.g. the right of permanent residence after a continuous period of five years of legal residence which started before the withdrawal date). This should cover both EU27 citizens residing (or having resided) and/or working (or having worked) in the United Kingdom and United Kingdom citizens residing (or having resided) and/or working (or having worked) in one of the Member States of the EU27. Guarantees to that effect in the Agreement should be reciprocal and should be based on the principle of equal treatment amongst EU27 citizens and equal treatment of EU27 citizens as compared to United Kingdom citizens, as set out in the relevant Union acquis. Those rights should be protected as directly enforceable vested rights for the life time of those concerned. Citizens should be able to exercise their rights through smooth and simple administrative procedures.

21. The Agreement should cover at least the following elements:
a) Definition of the persons to be covered: the personal scope should be the same as that of Directive 2004/38 (both economically active, i.e. workers and self-employed, as well as students and other economically inactive persons, who have resided in the UK or EU27 before the withdrawal date, and their family members who accompany or join them at any point in time before or after the withdrawal date). In addition, the personal scope should include persons covered by Regulation 883/2004, including frontier workers and family members irrespective of their place of residence.
b) Definition of the rights to be protected: this definition should include at least the following rights:
i) the residence rights and rights of free movement derived from Articles 18, 21, 45 and 49 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and set out in Directive 2004/38 (covering inter alia the right of permanent residence after a continuous period of five years of legal residence and the right as regards access to health care) and the rules relating to those rights; any document to be issued in relation to the residence rights (for example, registration certificates, residence cards or certifying documents) should have a declaratory nature and be issued under a simple and swift procedure either free of charge or for a charge not exceeding that imposed on nationals for the issuing of similar documents;
ii) the rights and obligations set out in Regulation 883/2004 on the coordination of social security systems and in Regulation 987/2009 implementing Regulation 883/2004 (including future amendments of both Regulations) covering inter alia, rights to aggregation, export of benefits, and principle of single applicable law for all the matters to which the Regulations apply;
iii) the rights set out in Regulation 492/2011 on freedom of movement for workers within the Union (e.g. access to the labour market, to pursue an activity, social and tax advantages, training, housing, collective rights as well as rights of workers' family members to be admitted to general educational, apprenticeship and vocational training courses under the same conditions as the nationals of the host State);
iv) the right to take up and pursue self-employment derived from Article 49 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

22. For reasons of legal certainty, the Agreement should ensure, in the United Kingdom and in the EU27, the protection, in accordance with Union law applicable before the withdrawal date, of recognised professional qualifications (diplomas, certificates and other evidence of formal qualification) obtained in any of the Union Member States before that date. The Agreement should also ensure that professional qualifications (diplomas, certificates or other evidence of formal qualification) obtained in a third country and recognised in any of the Union Member States before the withdrawal date in accordance with Union law rules applicable before that date continue to be recognised also after the withdrawal date. It should also provide for arrangements relating to procedures for recognition which are ongoing on the withdrawal date.

41. The Agreement should include provisions ensuring the settlement of disputes and the enforcement of the Agreement. In particular, these should cover disputes in relation to the following matters:
– continued application of Union law;
– citizens' rights;
– application and interpretation of the other provisions of the Agreement, such as the financial settlement or measures adopted by the institutional structure to deal with unforeseen situations.

42. In these matters, the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union (and the supervisory role of the Commission) should be maintained. For the application and interpretation of provisions of the Agreement other than those relating to Union law, an alternative dispute settlement should only be envisaged if it offers equivalent guarantees of independence and impartiality to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

43. The Agreement should foresee that any reference to concepts or provisions of Union law made in the Agreement must be understood as including the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union interpreting such concepts or provisions before the withdrawal date. Moreover, to the extent an alternative dispute settlement is established for certain provisions of the Agreement, a provision according to which future case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union intervening after the withdrawal date must be taken into account in interpreting such concepts and provisions should be included.

Tuesday 13 June 2017

The Gamble that Failed: The Brexit Election and what happens next

Professor Steve Peers

Last week’s early UK election ended with the surprising result of a ‘hung Parliament’, in which no one party had a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. What does this mean for the Brexit process going forward?

First of all, there’s a simple message for Theresa May’s Conservative party: they failed. Epically. The Prime Minister called this election three years early specifically to ask voters to increase her slender majority of seats in the Commons, in order to give her a mandate to carry out her Brexit plan. Voters refused – giving her fewer seats and a minority government instead. Of course, some voters must have voted on other issues, but the ‘Brexit negotiation mandate’ was the express reason for calling the election, and was repeatedly invoked by the Prime Minister throughout the election campaign. And while it’s true that the Conservatives are the largest party, that’s hardly comparable to the political legitimacy of a majority government – and again, that ignores the specific rationale for calling the election in the first place.

Having said that, the largest party is entitled to attempt to form a government, and the Conservatives are currently trying just that, in negotiations with a Northern Ireland party, the Democratic Unionists (DUP). That party has many of the same Brexit objectives as the Conservatives (see their manifesto here), including maintaining simplified border crossing with the Republic of Ireland (other UK parties, as well as the EU side in the Brexit talks, have this objective too). Together, the Conservatives and DUP will have a small majority of seats in the House of Commons.

What are the implications of this? Such a slim majority of Commons seats is vulnerable to defections, and in any event it’s not yet known whether the DUP will commit to support any proposed legislation. Furthermore, the government is now more vulnerable to rejection or major amendment of legislation by the House of Lords. While there is a constitutional convention, known as the ‘Salisbury Convention’, which commits the House of Lords not to block proposals for legislation tabled by a government which were mentioned in the winning party’s manifesto, it’s arguable whether this Convention applies where there is a minority government.

This applies even more so to the Brexit policy of this government, since the Prime Minister explicitly requested voters for a bigger Commons majority to combat the hypothetical prospect of the Lords voting against her Brexit agenda. In effect, she asked voters: “Give me a big majority so the Lords don’t meddle with my Brexit plans”. And the voters answered: “No”. In the circumstances, if the Lords block any government Brexit bills, they would not be frustrating the popular vote – but rather giving effect to it.

There is another option for a Commons majority to get its way, if the Lords blocks the adoption of legislation: the Parliament Acts, which allow the Commons to override the Lords.  However, there is a problem of timing here. If the Parliament Acts are invoked, the legislation in question comes into force after a one-year delay. But there are only 21 months left before Brexit Day (29 March 2019). Factor in the months necessary for Brexit-related Bills to pass through Parliament, and overriding the Lords is not a very plausible threat. Mrs Thatcher used to say that the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other peoples’ money. Maybe; but the problem with Mayism is that you eventually run out of your own time to negotiate Brexit.

Underpinning all this is the changed dynamics of UK politics as a result of the election. When the ‘Article 50 Act’ was passed earlier this year, there were enough votes in the House of Lords to support guaranteeing EU citizens’ rights in the UK, as well as parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit deal. But eventually Labour Lords abstained on these amendments, and so the Bill was adopted without them. Labour’s abstention may have been because the party did not want to be accused of blocking the Article 50 process, and/or because the party was worried (in light of opinion polls) about facing a snap ‘Brexit election’ if it did.

Now the position is transformed: a) the Article 50 Act has been passed, so Labour cannot be accused of blocking the process; and b) the ‘Brexit election’ has already been held, resulting in an unexpected increase in Labour votes, seats, momentum and opinion poll ratings. Although Labour still lost the election, it is now far more likely to welcome a further election than to fear one in these circumstances.

Substantive issues

Let’s now examine how this changed political dynamic could affect the details of the Brexit process. The government plans to propose a Great Repeal Bill that would convert the bulk of EU law into UK law as from Brexit Day, as well as other Brexit-related legislation (on immigration and customs, for example). Under the new political environment, the opposition parties, possibly with Conservative defectors, have a bigger opportunity to pass amendments or to block such bills.

For instance, amendments could include: guarantees for the rights of EU citizens in the UK; limiting the government’s power to reduce social and environmental standards without a further Act of Parliament; effective parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations; the role of the devolved legislatures; and parliamentary approval of the final deal. It seems unlikely that there are enough votes to demand a further referendum on the terms of the final Brexit deal, but there might be enough to require the government to seek some form of interim participation in the EU single market, pending negotiation of a subsequent post-Brexit trade deal. (While the Labour manifesto, as discussed here, ruled out continuing free movement of persons, arguably a brief continuation, with use of a safeguard clause like that in the European Economic Area, would not contradict this).

This brings us to a key Conservative party position that the new composition of the Commons could in effect rule out: the ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ argument. One of the least edifying moments of the campaign was the Prime Minister’s endless repetition of this mantra in one of the debates, accompanied each time by bellows of support from her ardent admirers. This was always an implausible threat due to the damage to the UK economy it would likely cause if it were carried out. But now it is politically implausible to, for the government could well struggle to find a parliamentary majority in both Houses to carry such a threat out. (Labour, and other opposition parties, explicitly oppose the use of this threat).  

In particular, Parliament might be unwilling to repeal the European Communities Act to give effect ‘no deal’, or at least unwilling to repeal it in advance if the government wants to repeal it in advance of Brexit Day (ie, unilaterally breaching its EU law obligations set out in Article 50). On this point, it’s essential to recall the Supreme Court ruling in Miller, to the effect that EU law is part of the domestic legal system largely because of the European Communities Act, rather than executive powers. The ‘no-deal’ threat was always unconvincing in light of political economy; it is now even more unconvincing as a matter of parliamentary arithmetic.

One final observation on the ‘no-deal’ scenario: it is particularly incompatible with the position of the Conservatives’ planned partner, the DUP, because (as noted above) the latter is keen on maintaining the absence of controls on the border with the Irish Republic. Since customs issues are an exclusive EU competence, this cannot work out without some form of treaty with the EU. And the EU’s negotiating guidelines rule out a separate deal on this issue: other issues (including difficult questions about financial payments) must be settled as part of an overall package.

It’s technically possible that the EU might change this position and negotiate a separate deal on this issue, even if there’s no deal overall. But how likely is it? Some Leavers argue that the EU’s negotiation position will swiftly fall apart, and the UK can get whatever it wants from the talks. Yet they said things like this throughout the referendum campaign, arguing that immediately after the referendum vote the EU would beg the UK to do a trade deal on the UK’s terms. To borrow from some Brexiteers’ favourite genre (WWII films), German car makers would call Angela Merkel to tell her “For you, ze var is over”; and Merkel would in turn call other EU leaders to say “Ve haf vays of making you talk”.

None of this happened, of course. Nor did the parallel fantasy that Brexit would soon be followed by Nexit, Frexit and the rest as other EU countries held key elections. Instead, domino after domino stood firm, and populist party after populist party ditched unpopular anti-EU policies after a series of electoral defeats. Some Brexiteers said there’d be an orgy of countries leaving the EU; but the UK is the only one who showed up to it. When it comes to analysis of EU politics, maybe it’s time to swipe left on those Brexiteers.


The British public was asked to give its verdict on Theresa May’s Brexit strategy. Since the referendum, we’ve heard her sneering at Remain voters and alleging that the EU wanted to undermine the election, while her angry tabloid allies ranted about “enemies of the people”, “crushing the saboteurs” and “Blue murder”. After a year of this rhetoric, British voters have politely asked the loud woman to turn down the volume – refusing her explicit request to back her Brexit strategy and implicitly asking for a rethink. Sadly, having campaigned in Hard Rock, it seems that Mrs. May is incapable of governing in Easy Listening. But as always, it ain’t over until the Mother of Parliaments sings.

Barnard & Peers: chapter 27

Photo credit: Daily25

Wednesday 7 June 2017

The UK General Election and Brexit: Comparing Party Manifestos

Professor Steve Peers

Tomorrow sees another general election in the UK, just two years after the last one. Since this is (according to the Prime Minister) an election on Brexit, it seems appropriate to review the parties’ views on this issue, including future UK/EU relations. I will examine the parties’ views in turn – focussing on larger UK-wide parties plus (due to its political importance) the Scottish National Party. The final section is an overview and comparison.


The Tory manifesto position on Brexit is largely a summary of the position set out in the Brexit White Paper (discussed here), and the planned Great Repeal Bill (discussed here), which would keep EU law as part of ‘UK law’ for the time being. Essentially, the Tories believe that the future UK/EU relationship should be based on a free trade deal without ‘vast’ payments into the EU budget or free movement of persons. Participation in the customs union and internal market would end, and there are some details about the transition to full separate UK participation in the World Trade Organisation. There’s an objective of continuing security cooperation with the EU, but the details are not spelled out.

Some fair settlement of UK accounts would be made upon departure from the EU, but the Tory policy is ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ – without spelling that position out further. Fortunately, the UKIP manifesto (discussed below) addresses this point. Unlike UKIP, the Tories do not attempt to ‘sell’ the no-deal scenario – which is just as well considering the concerns about its potential economic damage. Rather there is much discussion of what the positive outcomes of a deal would be.

Future immigration policy would retain an objective of net immigration below 100,000 – which would entail reducing non-EU migration (an issue largely outside the scope of EU law for the UK) as well. This would include further restricting the number of foreign students and family members, despite promises from the Leave side made during the referendum campaign to make it easier to admit UK citizens’ non-EU family members.  


Labour accepts the result of the referendum but sets out in more detail than the Conservatives what the future UK/EU relationship would look like.  It supports continued relations with Euratom and the single energy market, plus wants to maintain the ‘benefits’ of the single market and customs union without explaining how. Other remarks from the party suggest that it opposes continued participation as such in the single market and customs union, and opposes free movement of persons continuing.

Labour reject the ‘no-deal’ option, support a transitional deal, and list a number of areas where they still wish to cooperate with the EU: research programmes, Erasmus, Europol, Eurojust, the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), climate and anti-terrorism cooperation.  They have a different policy from the Tories on future family migration, as they would waive the strict income requirements for family members rather than tighten them. (There would still be a requirement not to use public funds). They would ‘guarantee existing rights’ of EU citizens in the UK. They set out in detail their future trade policy, insisting on links between trade and other concerns like the environment and human and labour rights.

Liberal Democrats

The LibDems aim for a referendum on the final Brexit deal, and support continued membership of the EU single market (including free movement of people) and customs union. They make specific reference to staying in Erasmus, preserving social and environmental rights, and participating in Europol, the EAW, EU databases, EU research funds, the European health card, abolition of roaming fees, and pat passports. Like Labour, they suggest links in between human rights and the environment in future trade deals. LibDems also give some detail on the position of EU citizens in the UK:


Similar to the LibDems, Greens propose a referendum on the final Brexit deal, and seek to continue with free movement and the single market. They also wish to guarantee EU citizens’ rights, retain social and environmental safeguards, and link trade deals to other standards.

Scottish National Party

The SNP manifesto views on Brexit reiterate its two key positions: Scotland, or the UK as a whole, to stay in the single market (previously discussed here), and a Scottish independence referendum when the terms of Brexit are known (previously discussed here). They also repeat their support for guaranteeing EU citizens’ rights.


Finally, that brings us to the UKIP manifesto. This manifesto gives us an indication of how the ‘no-deal’ scenario hinted at in the Conservative manifesto might play out. UKIP opposes the use of the Article 50 procedure to negotiate with the EU, focussing instead on the purely domestic law change of repealing the European Communities Act. They still aspire to a free trade deal with the EU, however, although they are indifferent to whether they get one – since they also promise to spend the £11 billion “windfall” from tariffs on EU goods. There’s no acknowledgement of the effects on the UK economy of this scenario: indeed, they argue that talk of a “cliff edge” from leaving the EU without a trade deal is “hyperbole”, since trade will still continue. This ignores the obvious prospect that the level of trade will decrease if tariffs and non-tariff barriers are imposed. While they reject the single market and customs union, they want EU/UK trade to continue “on the same basis as present”.

In any event, UKIP not only refuse to make any payment upon departure, they expect the UK to receive a sum from the EU as it leaves. Moreover, they pledge to oppose the existence of customs unions like the EU in the World Trade Organisations – even though the WTO expressly provides for the existence of customs unions, and (as UKIP even acknowledge) the EU is a WTO member in its own right.

Overall then, UKIP expects to receive all the current trade benefits of EU membership, with none of the perceived drawbacks, plus a payment on the way out. All of this while refusing to use the official departure route and campaigning to end the EU’s existence as a customs union and WTO member. If you seek a visual metaphor for how UKIP sees the world, imagine their leader Paul Nuttall – a star football player in his own mind - repeatedly scoring penalties over the heads of 27 massed goalkeepers.

UKIP’s rage against the dying of their light deserves one final paragraph. Their immigration policy includes not just an unreal zero migration target, but also a demand that new immigrants observe UK “values” to be admitted. This from a party who have continually disregarded the basic British values of tolerance, equality and fair play: members have referred to gays causing floods, and repeatedly insulted minorities. Indeed, after the last European Parliament election, to receive EU money UKIP did a deal with a party whose leader denies the Holocaust, and claims that women are inferior and obtain their political beliefs via biological transmission from the men they have sexual intercourse with. Clearly, politics’ loss is gynaecology’s gain.


There are two broad categories of opinion on the EU in this election, but also important differences within each group. The Liberal Democrats, Greens and SNP want to continue participation in the single market as well as a number of other EU policies. Moreover, all three parties want to offer the option of continued EU membership – the LibDems and Greens by means of a UK-wide referendum on the final deal, and the SNP by means of a referendum on Scottish independence.

The Conservatives, Labour and UKIP all favour departure from the UK without the single market, the customs union and free movement of persons, and aim instead for a free trade deal with the EU. However, these similarities soon end.  Like the first group of parties, Labour would guarantee EU citizens’ rights (in fact, it supports guaranteeing their existing rights, an important nuance), and would seek participation in a number of specific EU measures. The Tories are considerably cooler and less detailed on these issues, and are willing to contemplate a ‘no-deal’ scenario, although they cannot bring themselves to ‘sell’ it. Labour would welcome foreign families and students; the Tories see them as numbers to be reduced.

UKIP offers voters not just one fantasy, but a choice of two fantasies: either a problem-free ‘no-deal’ scenario, or a deal with all of the benefits and none of the supposed drawbacks of EU membership, with a gold watch for UK service to the EU thrown in for good measure. Of course, some would argue that UKIP’s fantasies are simply more explicit than Labour’s or the Conservatives’ – since the EU has made clear in its negotiating position that it is not possible to retain all benefits of the single market for a former Member State which leaves it.

Voters may not wish to make Brexit the main reason for their vote, or may in any event choose to cast a tactical vote against a party they dislike, rather than vote for a party which they most agree with but which has no chance of winning their seat. But it can hardly be said that all parties take the same view on Brexit issues, and the summary above makes clear that for those whose concern is Brexit first and foremost, there is a lot at stake in this election.

Barnard & Peers: chapter 27
Photo credit: BBC