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An uncertain future

A blog by Dr Janice Morphet, Visiting Professor at the Bartlett School of Planning 


Brexit flagWhat has been agreed so far on Brexit between the UK and the EU?

Nothing final. The UK and the European Commission and the member states have agreed a text of the Withdrawal Agreement (that relates to UK's existing position) and the Political Declaration, which relates to the UK's future relationship. It is this text which the Prime Minister has put before Parliament but on which there has yet been no vote, since she delayed the vote on 10 December. These texts must be finally agreed not only by the UK, following the meaningful vote by the UK Parliament but also the European Parliament (which has a veto) and the European Council sitting in formal session where there has to be a qualified majority vote.

What is the difference between the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and the Political Declaration (PD)?

The Withdrawal Agreement will be a treaty and legally binding under international rules. This includes the guarantee that there will be no border on the island of Ireland (the so-called backstop). This WA includes payment of £39bn in respect of existing commitments such as pensions for employees, MEPs, etc.

The Political Declaration is a non-binding document which does not have any legal standing. It expresses the general hopes for future relationships between the UK and the EU but it could not be relied upon in negotiation.

Neither the WA or the PD contain any proposed agreements of alignment of standards or future trade for the services sector including consulting.

What are the current Brexit options assessed to be?

  • The Prime Minister's deal which needs to be subject to a meaningful vote in Parliament which is expected before 21 January
  • No deal - this means exiting the EU with no agreements with the EU about future trade. There may also be no payment of monies owed. The Attorney General has advised the Government against the no deal position as it would affect the UK's standing in any future international agreement. There has been some talk about a 'managed no deal' but on both no deal options has not been any agreement of what this will mean in practice. The Bank of England, the Institute of Fiscal Studies and others have warned about the economic risks to the UK economy if there is no deal.
  • If Parliament votes down the PM's deal then there are further Parliamentary options which may be attempted in order to mandate the government to act is specific ways including:
    • Rejection of a 'no deal'  - this is an outstanding amendment from Hilary Benn MP which will be on the table before the meaningful vote is taken
    • A People's Vote – which may be on the deal on offer, no deal and possibly remain. While there are polls showing that remain may win this time, there are also questions about the effects of an inconclusive result and voter turnout. There may also be considerable friction about the questions on the ballot paper if this goes ahead. A further issue may be who can vote as there have been discussions about extending the franchise to over 16s and EU citizens living in the UK who were excluded from voting in the last referendum.
    • Norway + - this would be an agreement which would keep the UK in the Single Market and, if agreed in the Customs Union. The UK would be outside the CAP and Fisheries policies. This agreement would be subject to the agreement of the four countries that comprise the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) – Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Switzerland. There may be some issues with this option as Norway has said that the UK's membership would be too disruptive. This approach would also retain the four freedoms in the Single Market including freedom of movement and does not give the UK any voice in the decision making on EU legislation which this option would require it to adopt.
    • Leaving on WTO terms – all members of the WTO are ranked in divisions. If the UK leaves on this basis, it would join the lowest division, division 4. Most WTO member countries have significant trade deals in addition to those in the WTO which rank them in higher WTO divisions
    • Withdrawing the Article 50 notice to leave the EU. As the ECJ found this week, the UK can withdraw this notice until 29th March 2019  and retain its existing opt outs and rebates.
    • Holding a General Election and mandating a new government. This is difficult given the 5-year Parliament Act although it was broken in 2017.

What effects is this having on planning now?

The main effect that this is having on planning is uncertainty which is reflected through delays or cancellation of investment and development decisions. The government has also had little time for other policies although perhaps planning and housing have had more attention than others.

When will we know more about what the future situation will be?

This is uncertain at the moment.