Brexit 5 – It’s all in the details

This week, three new Brexit divorce deal details were alluded to ahead of formal talks with the EU which are expected to begin on Monday. These details revolved around Ireland, our foreign policy and the possibility of the UK scrapping a trade deal with the EU altogether if it is not deemed strong enough by June this year. Here’s what we have learned this week from these discussions and how they may shape our future outside of the European Union.

“No border down the Irish Sea”
On Monday, Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis MP insisted that the government will not impose a border down the Irish Sea, separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK as part of their Brexit deal. Instead, he said that business access will be “unfettered”. His claims were backed by Downing Street, which on the same day committed to a deal that would mean “limited changes” to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

But what does this mean in real terms? In October, the UK and the EU reached a deal. This deal allowed Northern Ireland to continue to follow EU rules on agricultural and manufactured goods, while the rest of the UK would stop following these rules by the end of 2020. Additionally, while the UK will have to leave the EU’s customs union, Northern Ireland will continue to maintain the EU’s customs code at its ports.

The UK and the EU must now negotiate what the nature of this situation really means in terms of checks and how small a divide between Northern Ireland and the UK can realistically be. Both the EU and the Irish government have urged the UK to honor the terms it agreed to in October. Although an official spokesperson for Number 10 confirmed that “we will comply with our obligations” under the Withdrawal Agreement, the Sunday Times has since reported that UK officials are seeking to evade any new checks on goods passing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The result of negotiations regarding the Irish border will be crucial to what the Irish Prime Minister described as “establishing trust between the UK and EU in future negotiations”. The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney also said that diverting from the agreed plan would “significantly damage the prospects of being able to get even a bare bones trade agreement”.

Just how progressive can our new, Brexit foreign policy really be?
On Wednesday, Downing Street announced that it will undergo a widescale review of its foreign, defence, security and development policy for the first time since the Cold War. The review will examine the way that foreign policy is created, what such policy aims to do and the methods it deploys to achieve such aims. Government officials have said that the review represents an attempt to “overhaul its approach” to creating policy and identify new, “innovative ways” to promote UK interests as it prepares to leave the EU.

A number 10 spokesperson has confirmed that the review will “utilise expertise from both inside and outside government… ensuring the UK’s best foreign policy minds are feeding into its conclusions and offering constructive challenge to traditional Whitehouse assumptions and thinking”. The review will examine areas including the ways in which the UK can tackle serious and organised crime more cohesively by building on the work of the Mackey Review and how we can better use technology and data to adjust to the changing nature of threats we face.

It has been more than 20 years since the UK has formally reviewed its foreign policy objectives and the tools it needs to achieve them. It’s no coincidence that that this review coincides with our Brexit divorce. With our separation from the EU comes possibilities to redefine our relationship with the rest of the world. However, there’s a clear tension that the Prime Minister may find difficult to ease. As Brexit, UKIP and national sovereignty have all become synonymous, projecting a welcoming, “innovative” and fresh demeaner to the wider world, much of which Brexit ostracized, will be challenging as the two narratives exist in contradiction.

Gove talks sovereignty and walking away from a trade deal
To exemplify the contradiction between working with a union that Brexit was sold to protest against, let’s turn to Michael Gove’s take on Brexit this week. Yesterday, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that if our divorce deal does not guarantee our absolute political and legal sovereignty, the UK may well walk away from a trade deal altogether as early as June 2020. He made this bold claim in parliament, showcasing the tensions between working with a union the government has criticized so overtly, and establishing deals with countries the Brexit campaign worked to otherise.

Mr Gove’s bold speech in parliament was followed by the publication of a 30-page document outlining the government’s priorities for EU negotiations which will begin on Monday. This document outlined that the UK “will not negotiate any arrangements in which the UK does not have control of its on laws and political life” and that there will be no jurisdiction for EU law or the European Court of Justice in the UK.

These details reflect the fact that our negotiations have far from ended. Much to the contrary, they have only just begun. Over the next few months we will see how likely negotiating a solid trade deal within the year, as promised in the Conservative manifesto, may be.

The Whitehouse team are experts in the potential impact of Brexit, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the member states of the European Union. More information about our Brexit experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at