UK’s Brexit proposal 'workable', to set out chemicals regulation details - ambassador

Source: ICIS News


MADRID (ICIS)--The UK government aims to convince its EU partners that its latest proposals to leave the 28-country bloc are “workable”, while a white paper to be published on Thursday will finally set out how chemicals regulations will work going forward, according to the country’s ambassador in Spain.

Simon Manley described the 6 July proposals from the UK government as a “real step forward” which would be able to unblock the negotiations between the two parties.

However, he could not give more details about the UK’s willingness to become a third party member of the EU’s chemicals regulator the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) or the financial terms of such an agreement, and reverted to the white paper’s publication.

The UK government’s proposal last week to keep a free trade area for industrial goods, including regulatory alignment, has been welcomed by the country’s chemical trade group CIA but has received a chilly reception from the EU so far.

On 11 July, an official from the European Commission, the executive body acting as the negotiator from the EU side, dismissed in an event in Madrid the “three-pages-and-a-half” proposal presented on 6 July as lacking detail and long-term planning.

The proposal presented on 6 July caused the biggest crisis in Theresa May’s government to date as key ministers who favoured a harder Brexit resigned earlier this week. Stock markets and manufacturing businesses, however, welcomed the proposals.

However, while a free trade area for goods was music to the ears of the chemical industry, there is still many aspects of its regulatory framework – the EU’s Reach – and its membership to ECHA that have yet to be clarified.

In March, Theresa May set out her intentions for the UK to remain within the ECHA jurisdiction as a third party member, although she did not clarify details of how that would work out.

In an interview to be published on ICIS later on Thursday, ECHA official Mercedes Vinas explains how the agency itself has not received yet much detail about the proposal.

The ambassador could not give details of that proposal either.

“That’s why we are publishing a white paper tomorrow [Thursday] establishing more details [about chemicals regulation and ECHA’s membership]. This white paper is key – It is a genuine effort by us to set out in greater detail the ideas we have,” said Manley.

“But we have to work together with the EU Commission to try and find solutions. It’s not just sensible to say ‘that’s not possible’: Everything is possible, everything is doable.”

The EU Commission has sent conflicting messages about the 6 July proposal, and Manley preferred to focus on the more positive ones. Thus, he mentioned what the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said earlier this week, arguing that 80% of the Brexit deal was already agreed.

However, Barnier also said that a free trade area for goods, but not for services as the UK wants, would be a difficult proposal to implement as it would not follow the spirit of the EU’s Single Market regulations.

“The agreement [in the UK government with its proposals] is a major step forward. It sets out our views in detail [and gives] greater clarity on the way forward. We think it’s entirely workable, we wouldn’t put it forward it we thought it was not workable,” said Manley, pressed on how key aspects of the proposal would work.

Under one of the proposals, goods entering the UK from outside the EU would be applied UK tariffs if they stayed in the country, but let go if they have an EU destination. How that would work in practice is still unknown.

“That’s what we are going to sit down and negotiate about. The key is that we need to try and find a way forward. We are leaving the EU, and with the proposals we put forward last Friday [6 July] we recognise the positions taken by the EU27,” the ambassador said.

“We have tried to evolve our position to reflect the views and positions of the EU27 to respond to the appeal they made in the last European Council – we think we have good, workable proposals there, which we need to discuss now.”

While Theresa May’s authority seems to have been established more strongly after the resignations of her Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and her Brexit chief negotiator David Davis, who opposed the 6 July proposals, in EU quarters they keep lamenting the lack of a strong negotiator on the other side.

As a diplomat, Manley could only bring on just the opposite line when asked about the topic.

“The government won’t collapse – The EU have got a very strong negotiator on the other side.”

Picture source: UK Embassy in Spain

Interview article by Jonathan Lopez