What the Conservative manifesto says about Brexit

What the Conservative manifesto says about Brexit

“We will get on with the job and take Britain out of the European Union.”

 

Brexit has a key place in the Conservatives’ manifesto, published today, which reaffirms all of the Government’s existing commitments on Brexit, while adding concrete pledges in further areas, including leaving the EU Customs Union and Common Fisheries Policy. Here, we take you through all the key points in the Conservatives’ manifesto on Brexit and what they mean, as well as related pledges on trade and immigration.

  • In her Lancaster House Speech, the prime minister laid out the twelve principles she intends to follow in seeking a new deep and special partnership with the European Union. We have explained our approach in the White Paper on the United Kingdom’s Exit from, and a new relationship with, the European Union, during the passage of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act, in the prime minister’s letter to the president of the European Council invoking Article 50, and in the Great Repeal Bill White Paper.

This restates the Conservatives’ commitment to the Brexit approach they have taken so far, as set out in Theresa May’s Lancaster House Speech, the original Brexit White Paper and the later Great Repeal Bill White Paper, as well as Theresa May’s Article 50 letter.

  • As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the single market or customs union.
  • We will seek a deep and special partnership including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement.
  • We will pursue free trade with European markets, and secure new trade agreements with other countries.

The Conservative Government had already committed to leaving the Single Market, but did appear to have left the door open on the issue of the Customs Union, with suggestions that some form of partial or associate membership might be sought instead. The manifesto closes that door with a clear commitment to leaving the Customs Union as well as the Single Market, and seeking to build a new relationship with the EU based on a “comprehensive free trade and customs agreement”, which will allow Britain to secure new trade agreements with other countries.

  • We believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside our withdrawal, reaching agreement on both within the two years allowed by Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
  • The negotiations will undoubtedly be tough, and there will be give and take on both sides, but we continue to believe that no deal is better than a bad deal for the UK.
  • And we will protect the democratic freedom of the people of Gibraltar and our overseas territories to remain British, for as long as that is their wish.

These two points are aimed more at the European Union than at the domestic audience. The first reiterates the Conservatives’ position that trade negotiations should be held in parallel with talks on the ‘exit’ deal, which would cover payments to the EU and citizens’ rights. A target of reaching full agreement on the terms of future partnership within two years is set, while talk of “phased implementation” which originally appeared in the Lancaster House Speech does not reappear in the manifesto.

The Government’s pledge that “no deal is better than a bad deal” reminds the EU that Britain will be prepared to walk away if it refuses to back down on any unreasonable demands (a case which I first made here last December). The specific commitment over Gibraltar is a direct rebuttal to the EU’s negotiating guidelines which state that Spain should have a veto over the status of Gibraltar in any final agreement, despite Gibraltar having overwhelmingly voted to remain British when it has been put to a referendum.

  • We want to work together in the fight against crime and terrorism, collaborate in science and innovation – and secure a smooth, orderly Brexit.
  • There may be specific European programmes in which we might want to participate and if so, it will be reasonable that we make a contribution.
  • The days of Britain making vast annual contributions to the European Union will end.

This elaborates on the idea that Britain will continue to cooperate with the EU in a wide range of areas after Brexit, with “specific European programmes” likely to include things like the Erasmus+ student exchange scheme and the Horizon 2020 research scheme. The UK would be prepared to pay their share for these specific schemes, but will not contribute large amounts of money to the EU budget any more.

Legal commitments

  • Our laws will be made in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, and interpreted by judges across the United Kingdom, not in Luxembourg.
  • We will not bring the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law.

This rules out any continued jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg over British courts after Brexit, as well as ruling out any further role for the controversial Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law, both vital steps in regaining sovereignty and taking back control of our laws.

  • We will enact a Great Repeal Bill.
  • The bill will convert EU law into UK law, allowing businesses and individuals to go about life knowing that the rules have not changed overnight.
  • The bill will also create the necessary powers to correct the laws that do not operate appropriately once we have left the EU, so our legal system can continue to function correctly outside the EU. Once EU law has been converted into domestic law, parliament will be able to pass legislation
  • As well as the Great Repeal Bill, we will bring forward a number of additional bills to ensure that when we have left the EU there is a clear statutory basis for United Kingdom authorities to exercise powers that are currently exercised through EU law and institutions.
  • The final agreement will be subject to a vote in both houses of parliament.

This reaffirms the Conservatives’ commitment to introducing a Great Repeal Bill to end the supremacy of EU law and transpose existing EU laws into UK law, as they have already set out in a government White Paper. It also clarifies that the executive powers granted by the Bill will only allow the Government to change technicalities of existing laws, not revoke them as some critics have claimed, while confirming that further primary legislation will be used for the legal implementation of Brexit in other areas, and that the final deal will be subject to the approval of Parliament.

Trade

  • We will ensure immediate stability by lodging new UK schedules with the World Trade Organization, in alignment with EU schedules to which we are bound whilst still a member of the European Union.
  • We will seek to replicate all existing EU free trade agreements and support the ratification of trade agreements entered into during our EU membership.
  • We will continue to support the global multilateral rules-based trade system.
  • We will introduce a Trade Bill in the next parliament.
  • We will create a network of Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioners to head nine new regional overseas posts. These commissioners will lead export promotion, investment and trade policy overseas.
  • We will reconvene the Board of Trade with a membership specifically charged with ensuring that we increase exports from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as England, and that trade policy is directly influenced by every part of our United Kingdom.
  • The United Kingdom will be a global champion for an open economy, free trade, and the free flow of investment, ideas and information.
  • We believe the UK must seize the unique opportunities it has to forge a new set of trade and investment relationships around the world.

The manifesto’s extensive section on trade confirms the UK’s ambitions not only to secure a comprehensive free trading agreement with the EU, but also to take a lead on championing free trade around the world and put a new global free trading agenda at the heart of the Conservatives’ plans to seize the maximum economic opportunities of Brexit. It also confirms that the UK would seek to transpose all existing trade deals made by the EU into UK trade deals, including deals still in the process of ratification, such as the CETA deal with Canada.

Immigration

  • We will control immigration and secure the entitlements of EU nationals in Britain and British nationals in the EU.
  • It is our objective to reduce immigration to sustainable levels, by which we mean annual net migration in the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands we have seen over the last two decades.
  • We will, therefore, continue to bear down on immigration from outside the European Union.
  • Overseas students will remain in the immigration statistics – in line with international definitions – and within scope of the government’s policy to reduce annual net migration.
  • [We will] establish an immigration policy that allows us to reduce and control the number of people who come to Britain from the European Union, while still allowing us to attract the skilled workers our economy needs.

The target of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands is retained for the third successive Conservative manifesto, although the policies outlined appear to be focused much more heavily on reducing non-EU migration than on EU migration, which will obviously be a politically sensitive topic in the negotiations with the EU27. Unlike Labour and the Lib Dems, the Conservatives have committed to keeping international students in the net migration statistics. The Conservatives also repeat their commitment to securing reciprocal agreement on the rights of UK citizens living in the EU and vice versa.

Regulation

  • Workers’ rights conferred on British citizens from our membership of the EU will remain.
  • We shall produce a comprehensive 25 Year Environment Plan that will chart how we will improve our environment as we leave the European Union and take control of our environmental legislation again.
  • Regulation is necessary for the proper ordering of any economy and to ensure that people – and their investments – are protected. However, poor and excessive government regulation limits growth for no good reason. So we will continue to regulate more efficiently, saving £9 billion through the Red Tape Challenge and the One-In-Two-Out Rule.

Poorly conceived and implemented regulations have consistently been one of the main criticisms of the European Union over the years. The Conservatives have committed to maintain all existing workers’ rights derived from the EU, while also committing to produce a comprehensive plan for how to improve the post-Brexit environment. Interestingly, there is also a pledge to introduce a “One-In-Two-Out Rule” to help streamline regulatory structures in general after Brexit.

Fishing

  • When we leave the European Union and its Common Fisheries Policy, we will be fully responsible for the access and management of the waters where we have historically exercised sovereign control.
  • To provide complete legal certainty to our neighbours and clarity during our negotiations with the European Union, we will withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention.

This provides an unequivocal commitment for the first time that the Conservatives plan to withdraw from the Common Fisheries Policy and the earlier London Fisheries Convention, which will restore the UK’s entire Exclusive Economic Zone to which it is entitled under the UN Law of the Sea. This will doubtless be welcomed by fishermen around the country, who have always been overwhelmingly opposed to the CFP.

It may also have a bearing on election in Scotland, where there have been ongoing rows between the Scottish Conservatives and the SNP over the Common Fisheries Policy, which has been responsible for the decimation of many traditional Scottish fishing communities over the decades.

Devolution

  • We will use the structural fund money that comes back to the UK following Brexit to create a United Kingdom Shared Prosperity Fund, specifically designed to reduce inequalities between communities across our four nations.
  • We will respect the devolution settlements: no decision-making that has been devolved will be taken back to Westminster. Indeed, we envisage that the powers of the devolved administrations will increase as we leave the EU.
  • As we leave the European Union we recognise Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances and will seek to ensure that Northern Ireland’s interests are protected.
  • We will maintain the Common Travel Area and maintain as frictionless a border as possible for people, goods and services between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The Conservatives stop short of some of the post-Brexit devolution pledges made by Labour and the Lib Dems, expressing their desire to devolve appropriate powers which are returning from the EU, without giving a commitment that this will be automatic or presumed, as Labour have done. They do, however, make a clear commitment to continue investing the structural funds, which are currently distributed to UK regions from the EU budget, across the regions of the UK after Brexit.

The manifesto also confirms that maintaining the Common Travel Area and “as frictionless a border as possible” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will be a clear priority in the negotiations, as has already been set out by both the UK and the EU throughout the Brexit process.

Overall, it is a manifesto that will reassure leavers, reinforcing the steps that Theresa May has taken thus far towards Brexit, and in fact going slightly further in several areas. June 8th will reveal whether the British public as a whole agrees.