- Vincent Kessler/Reuters
- Exclusive: The European Parliament is preparing a “detailed,” 60-paragraph resolution which will call for more flexibility in future relationship talks with Britain.
- The Parliament wants the EU to negotiate an ‘association agreement’ which could give Britain “privileged” single market access and membership of EU agencies.
- The resolution offers an alternative to the position of the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator.
- The plans were revealed to British MPs during meetings in Brussels this week.
LONDON – The European Parliament is putting together a 60-paragraph document outlining its desire for an “association agreement” with post-Brexit Britain, in a break from the position of the chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier.
The European Parliament is pushing for a future relationship with the United Kingdom which could allow for Britain to retain “privileged” access to the single market.
This marks a divergence from the position taken by the EU’s negotiating team, which has instead suggested that Theresa May’s negotiating red lines mean Britain may only have access to a Canada-style free trade deal.
One source familiar with the European Parliament’s activities told Business Insider it wants to “steal a march” on the other EU institutions by adopting the resolution prior to the EU27 signing off its negotiating guidelines for talks on the future relationship.
The Parliament currently plans to put the resolution to its Brexit Steering Group around March 8, before it is adopted at a meeting of all MEPs, also known as a plenary, later in the month.
The document will be a “very detailed” explanation of the future relationship the Parliament wants to have with Britain after Brexit, the source said.
The Parliament, spearheaded by its Brexit spokesperson Guy Verhofstadt, wants negotiations on the future relationship to focus on overall structures, rather than country-specific models such as the Canada option.
“Mr Barnier has his famous staircase, but what they want to talk about is overall frameworks rather than focusing on countries,” one British politician who spoke with Verhofstadt, told BI this week.
A source close to Verhofstadt confirmed to BI that the parliament is working on the resolution.
“It is correct that Members are working on a resolution proposal for the framework of future relations with the UK likely to be debated and voted during the March plenary session,” they said.
The pound climbed 0.5% against the euro in response to Business Insider revealing the plans.
What is an association agreement?
The resolution will express the European Parliament’s desire for an association agreement with post-Brexit Britain. These arrangements are used by the EU to establish privileged relationships with non-members.
Arrangements vary in features and commitments, effectively making them bespoke. One example is the arrangement the EU currently has with Ukraine. The 2014 EU-Ukraine Agreement allows Ukraine high levels of access to the single market as a non-EU member, particularly in financial services. The deal also includes close customs cooperation.
An association agreement can also create a framework for cooperation in areas like security and can provide non-EU countries with the option of being involved in various EU agencies and programmes.
The European Parliament first hinted at the possibility of an EU-UK association agreement in a resolution published back in April 2017. The EU also has association agreements with Georgia, Moldova and some Western Balkan states.
The Institute For Government says association agreements are usually characterised by four features:
- “They contain a free trade agreement with the EU. But these free trade agreements tend to vary country by country.
- “In return for some access to the Single Market, a non-EU country is often required to share part of relevant EU regulations- so-called EU acquis.
- “They create opportunities to cooperate beyond trade in areas of mutual interest, from defence and security, to environment and energy, to science and education.
- “They include a clause on the respect of human rights and democratic principles.”
The Parliament’s interest in pursuing an association agreement with the UK differs from the position of Barnier, who has suggested that May’s red-lines make a Canada-style free trade deal the only realistic post-Brexit model.
“All the way through the EU is impressively joined-up, on message and consistent. But between them [Barnier and Verhofstadt] is a chink of difference,” the source said.
It is doubtful whether Prime Minister May would be able to get her Cabinet to agree to this sort of arrangement.
A comprehensive association agreement between the UK and EU would likely be subject to European Court of Justice arbitration. This would be a difficult pill to swallow for the Conservative party’s staunch Leavers who want to be free of all European law after Brexit.
An association agreement on goods and/or services would also require at least some degree of significant regulatory alignment between Britain and the EU, too.
This sort of deal also comes with its practical challenges.
Association agreements are what are described as “mixed competence” agreements, meaning they fall under both EU and EU member state competence.
Because of this, they must be ratified by the European Parliament, European Council, and the national and regional parliaments of all 27 member states. With this in mind, a comprehensive UK-EU association agreement would likely be similar to the EU-Canada free trade deal (CETA), which took a total of seven years to finally sign off.
Brexit Secretary David Davis will today give a speech ensuring business leaders across Europe that Britain will not pursue a sweeping deregulation program after leaving the EU.
“We will continue our track record of meeting high standards after we leave the European Union,” he will say.
“Now, I know that for one reason or another there are some people who have sought to question that these really are our intentions … these fears about a race to the bottom are based on nothing – not history, not intention nor interest.”