The Scottish Centre on European Relations asked 10 questions about Brexit – https://www.scer.scot/database/ident-1979 – so I've written a short response to each.
(1) EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU
– Do you support EU citizens in the UK having the same rights they have now (to residence, pensions, being joined by family members, benefits, European Court of Justice role to ensure their rights are protected etc)?
– If not, what rights would you give them, and would you expect the EU27 to accept your proposal?
Answer: I do support this – and I would support continuing freedom of movement, even after Brexit (unlikely, at best, I acknowledge) because I believe that free movement has enhanced our society and enriched our communities financially and culturally. The Court of Justice angle might be a little difficult – I can't see the EU accepting a UK judge on it after Brexit and I can't see the UK Government accepting its rulings without there being a UK judge on it.
I don't have any confidence in the negotiating tactics of the Government (nor do I have any confidence in the Ministers' ability to negotiate well) and I worry about the outcome of the negotiations. We're going to have to stay observant throughout the whole process and keep pressuring the Government on this and the other issues in the Brexit mess. I'm not sure that there is a good deal to be had and I'm even less sure that the UK Ministers are negotiating in good faith but we have to do our best to hold them to account.
(2) The UK's Bill
– How much do you think the UK's exit liabilities are? Would you pay them? If not, why not?
– If the UK budget liabilities to the EU are shown genuinely to be €50-100 billion, would you agree to those being paid? If not, why not?
Answer: Yes, of course we'd have to pay them. You can't walk away from liabilities and still expect to be treated as a trusted partner in the future. These liabilities will be committed spending on the current round as well as a whole load of other considerations. There's a paper taking a decent stab at quantifying them here – http://bruegel.org/2017/03/divorce-settlement-or-leaving-the-club-a-breakdown-of-the-brexit-bill/
The actual total of those liabilities, however, will be a matter for negotiation and, as I said earlier, I don't have any confidence in the UK Government's negotiating abilities.
(3) Borders: Northern Ireland and Scotland
– Do you think a 'soft' border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (with cameras, with customs paperwork to be done somewhere even if not at the border) will be politically and technically feasible or politically damaging or technically infeasible?
– If Scotland were an independent country in the EU, would any economic/customs barriers between it and the rest of the UK (for goods and agriculture) be identical to those between the UK and EU27? If not, why not?
Answer: I've been the SNP leader on Northern Ireland since 2015 and I can tell you that the border issues are a huge concern – the psychological border was as much of a barrier as the physical one during the troubles and there is a huge desire to make sure that it never goes back there. That desire to maintain openness and the flexibility of the EU in finding solutions to problems should mean that a workable solution is found. Donald Tusk has already said that avoiding a hard border should be a priority and Michel Barnier has said that a solution can be found. David Davies has claimed that he wants the same thing but he appears to think that it should be linked to a trade deal so it looks like the UK Government might be the stumbling block.
Once Scotland is independent and rejoins the EU there will be negotiations over the border with rUK as part of the accession process. The EU doesn't operate on a dictatorial basis and it will seek to ensure that no Member State was disadvantaged by being a Member State so a solution should be within touching distance to allow more open trade between Scotland and rUK than between the EU and rUK. It may be, of course, that businesses currently operating in England consider the possibility of moving to Scotland to take advantage of Scotland's membership just as they will currently be considering whether to move operations to another EU Member State in advance of Brexit.
(4) Repatriation of EU law: Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales
– Do you support EU powers on agriculture, fisheries and environment being fully returned to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? If so, how would that work? If not, how would that work?
Yes. There may have to be some framework agreements between the Governments to ensure collective action on things like fishing and on the environment which would mean that the Joint Ministerial Committee would need to gear up a bit. It should be recognised, though, that the UK will need to come to agreement with the EU on a fishing framework if we want to continue selling fish in that market and on collective efforts on the environment if we want to actually make a difference. I imagine we'll end up with agreements similar to those of Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands rather than the ones with southern partners. The CFP won't be going away after Brexit.
(5) UK migration policy: costs and benefits
– If the UK has its own separate migration policy, no longer participating in freedom of movement of people across the EU, will the EU27 offer the UK a less good trade deal than otherwise? If so, what will the economic costs of that be? If not, why would the EU offer an equally good deal irrespective of migration policy?
– If the UK government, after the election, set soft Brexit as its goal, keeping the UK in the EU's single market (with free movement of people) and in its customs union, what are the economic and political costs and benefits of this compared to full EU membership and compared to a bespoke UK-EU27 trade deal?
Answer: The economic costs of losing the migration are going to be heavy enough before we even get round to looking at what damage could come in a trade deal; we're already seeing academics looking at moving to other EU Member States, we'll lose a pool of skilled workers, budding entrepreneurs and young, energetic folk. If we don't keep free movement we'll see our population age and if we don't have mutual guarantees for EU citizens already and UK citizens already abroad we'll be swapping the current cohort of young people who contribute to our economy for a load of folk who retired to warmer climes.
I'm not sure whether the UK's xenophobic immigration stance will impact greatly on the trade deal; I suspect that other Member States are despairing of getting grown-up contributions from the UK and look askance at each development from Whitehall. The EU will be negotiating in the best interests of its remaining Member States and that will be the deciding factor so the UK's immigration policies will only matter if it's considered that it impacts upon the interests of those remaining Member States.
I would be delighted – wreathed in smiles, in fact – if the UK Government saw sense and sought to keep us in the single market but I can't see it happening; they seem fixated on wiping the last traces of the EU off of their heels as they leave.
(6) Future UK-EU27 Trade Deal
– Do you think a bespoke UK-EU-27 trade deal inevitably means less access to the EU's single market than the UK has now? If not, why not? If yes, what will the economic costs of that be?
– When UK firms export to or operate in the EU post-Brexit, they must meet its regulations. What regulations would you see as most important to change after March 2019 for firms only operating in the UK domestic market? Do you see these as some of the key benefits of Brexit?
– How long do you think it would take the UK to renegotiate existing EU trade deals that cover almost sixty countries around the world?
– How many new trade deals (excluding the renegotiation of ones the UK is in due to its EU membership) do you expect the UK to have successfully negotiated by 2022? What will the economic benefit of those deals be and how does that compare to any reduction in UK-EU27 trade due to not being a full member of the EU's single market?
Answer: We're absolutely certain to have less access as a result of Brexit – you can tell that by the fact that EU leaders are saying we'll have less access and how they're insistent that a non-Member can't have membership benefits that are as good as Members have. There is also the repeated statements from UK Government Ministers that indicate they don't want to keep single market access – Brexit means Brexit and the removal of noses to spite faces, apparently. I don't think it's yet possible to quantify the economic damage that leaving the single market will cause – although economists will be giving it a go.
There are no regulations that I think particularly hamper businesses operating in the domestic market but I do have a fear that UK Ministers will seek to make political capital by saying they are 'cutting red tape' and employment and environmental protections will be threatened.
Given the timescales of trade deals in the past and the possibility that the other parties to the trade deals may be looking at the UK as a wounded competitor and so looking for advantages, I think it will possibly be decades before we have deals to match existing EU deals. That could be speeded up if the UK Government was prepared to approach potential partners with a deal replicating the EU deal but I doubt very much whether they would do that.
I don't expect any trade deals to be successfully negotiated by 2022.
(7) Transition Phase
– Would you support the UK staying in the European Economic Area (i.e. free movement of people, EFTA court) for a transition period from March 2019 until the comprehensive UK-EU27 trade deal is agreed and ratified? If so, for how long? If not, what are the key elements of a transition deal – and for how long?
– Should the UK stay in the customs union during the transition phase? If so, when would you want the UK to leave the customs union and start negotiating its own trade deals?
– If the UK doesn't stay in the customs union, do you envisage there being adequate customs space at ports and airports by March 2019. If there would not be adequate space, what transition arrangements would you propose?
Answer: I support Scotland being independent in the EU rather than the mess that's coming our way just now. I'd support EFTA membership as a backstop to that but I'm not sure just how welcome the UK would be in EFTA – I could see the application being rejected.
I'd support remaining in the customs union for as long as possible (preferably by not leaving the EU) but I think the reality is that we'll be heaved out of the customs union at the earliest possible opportunity by Ministers determined to make their mark. I think it's also more than possible that UK Ministers will walk out of the negotiations before they are concluded to try to seem strong. The idea of this lot trying to negotiate trade deals fills me with horror.
(8) Irretrievable Breakdown of Talks
– If the talks break down, and there is no deal, what impact would a 'WTO cliff' have on the UK economically and politically? Will there be a major crisis – if so, what could be done to alleviate this? If not, why not?
– If the talks break down irretrievably, would you support either staying in the EU after all or trading with the EU on WTO terms? Would you support having a referendum on this? If not, why not?
Answer: If the talks break down – something not beyond the bounds of probability – it will leave the UK looking politically foolish at the very least. If, as seems possible, they break down because the UK walks away from the table the UK will seem politically untrustworthy as well. There is a major crisis already – it's not a question of whether there will be, it's here now. Mitigating the impact of that crisis would require UK Ministers to consider compromise and perhaps admit that the approach so far has been ill-considered so I cannot see that happening. Scotland, of course, has the option of leaving the UK and looking at rejoining the single market.
I already support staying in the EU and will continue to support staying in the EU whatever happens. I support Scotland being an independent Member State of the EU and will work towards that. A referendum is always, I think, the way to allow people to decide their future.
(9) Letting the Public Vote on or before the Deal
– Do you support a referendum once the exit deal is agreed in late 2018 on accepting the deal or staying in the EU after all? If not, why not?
Answer: I support a referendum in Scotland on whether we accept the direction of the UK or make our own decisions. We should have a referendum on whether Scotland stands with the UK in splendid isolation or takes a place in the EU as an independent nation to cooperate with our European neighbours.
(10) Brexit Overall
– Overall, do you think Brexit will be positive or negative for the UK? In the House of Commons, will you continue to support Brexit or argue for the UK public and government to think again?
Answer: It's a huge, seething negative. I have never supported Brexit and I'll continue to argue for Scotland to continue membership of the EU.