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Draft EU Agreement Ticks Boxes

British businesses trading with the EU have welcomed some vital provisions in the draft withdrawal agreement negotiated by that body’s Commission and UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

One reason for the positivity is full approval of the document would provide much-needed certainty about future trading arrangements after over two years of considerable doubt.

Ratification would also confirm goods could continue being shipped between the UK and EU without tariffs being imposed or burdensome and time-consuming border checks taking place.

Approval would additionally mean employees from EU countries being able to come here easily for some time yet and avoid the horrors of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.

The current largely economical, quick and simple shipping of goods between the UK and EU takes place mainly because we’re members of the bloc’s Customs Union. If the draft withdrawal agreement takes effect we’ll enter a 20-month transition period after leaving on 29 March next year, during which our relationship with the EU will essentially remain unchanged.

Moreover, the draft says if a long-term free trade agreement isn’t concluded between the UK and EU by July 2020, the parties can agree to extend this transition period indefinitely. In the absence of such an accord, the “backstop” will take effect. This measure, designed to guarantee a continued open border in Ireland, would mean the UK and EU remaining in a single customs territory “unless and until a subsequent agreement becomes applicable.”  

Another benefit of the transition period for many UK companies and their freight forwarders like ourselves is it would guarantee continued free movement of labour between the UK and EU.

"Another benefit of the transition period for many UK companies and their freight forwarders like ourselves is it would guarantee continued free movement of labour between the UK and EU."

Many of our customers depend on foreign workers to facilitate their international trade and numerous freight forwarders similarly rely on employees from abroad to drive lorries or run warehouses, for example.

Although free movement will almost certainly end when our transition period does, maintaining it until then would at least provide valuable time for British businesses to plan for its cessation.    

Another corollary of the draft withdrawal agreement being ratified and the transition period taking effect would be the horrors of the UK departing the EU without a deal being avoided.

It’s no secret the UK government has done little preparation for such an outcome and all the facilities, staff and often-complex processes needed to handle such an eventuality will simply not be in place by next March. The recently highlighted dangers of 20-mile queues of lorries trying to reach Dover and shortages of imported foods and medicines, for example, after such a Brexit, are therefore very real.

Much longer than the period between now and March 2019 is needed to address problems a no-deal departure would throw up. These include the UK currently being able to issue permits likely to be needed for entering the EU to only about five per cent of its lorries needing to go there. Such a Brexit would also mean the agreements currently allowing planes to fly between Britain and the bloc lapsing.   

British businesses understand the draft withdrawal agreement still has to be fully ratified by the UK and EU and, at the time of writing, approval by the Westminster Parliament, in particular, seems far from a formality.  

However, achieving certainty retaining Customs Union membership and free movement of labour into the future plus avoiding the chaos a “no deal” Brexit would bring to companies and their supply chains are vital priorities for the UK’s EU traders. Whatever we think as individuals of the draft agreement’s other provisions, there’s no doubt it ticks these boxes.     

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