There is very little practical difference between the position recently agreed by the UK Cabinet and the position adopted by the EU. Putting the positions side by side, we find this. (Everything in the table is a quotation from a public statement.)
|UK Government position||EU negotiating position|
|A common rulebook for all goods including agri-food, with the UK making an upfront choice to commit by treaty to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods||A framework for voluntary regulatory cooperation to encourage convergence of rules|
|Different arrangements for services, where it is in our interests to have regulatory flexibility, recognising the UK and the EU will not have current levels of access to each other’s markets.||An open market for services, where companies from the other party have the right of establishment and market access to provide services under host state rules|
|A common rulebook on state aid, and establish cooperative arrangements between regulators on competition.||Common ground on competition and state aid.|
|A joint institutional framework to provide for the consistent interpretation and application of UK-EU agreements by both parties. This would be done in the UK by UK courts, and in the EU by EU courts||Adequate enforcement and dispute settlement mechanisms.|
|The phased introduction of a new Facilitated Customs Arrangement that would remove the need for customs checks and controls between the UK and the EU as if a combined customs territory||Customs cooperation to facilitate goods crossing the border|
The main area of disagreement in that list concerns access for services, where it is almost certain that the UK government will give way – they cannot get UK access for financial services otherwise.
The high level of agreement does not, however, imply an easy resolution of the issues, because – yet again – the UK has largely failed to engage with the issues. The recent statement from the EU’s negotiating team identifies a host of priority issues where the UK has still not identified a position. They include:
- access to public procurement markets
- intellectual property rights
- coordination of social security
- recognition of professional qualifications
- guarantees against tax dumping
- an air transport agreement, combined with aviation safety and security agreements.
- participation in EU programmes, for instance in the field of research and innovation
- rules on data protection and
- social and environmental standards.
One might hope that the forthcoming White Paper will have something to say about these issues; but frankly, it should all have been laid out two years ago.