The UK is willing to temporarily align with some EU rules, particularly in the field of pharmaceuticals, to ensure the fluidity of trade in the “unlikely” event that the UK leaves the EU without an agreement, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab announced on Thursday.
The UK government released the first 25 technical notes, out of a total of about 80 expected by the end of September, outlining the way forward for citizens and the business community in case of lack of a divorce agreement with the EU. Without a new trade agreement, UK and EU trade would default to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, which would involve the re-imposition of customs and tariff barriers.
London and Brussels are expected to reach an agreement by the October EU summit to organise the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, but negotiations are stalling, raising fears of a lack of agreement. However, this was deemed “unlikely” by Dominic Raab, during a speech in London. “We are increasing the pace and intensity of our negotiations, and I am confident that a good agreement is within our reach,” said the minister, who will meet again with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, next week in Brussels.
Finding an agreement with the EU on the withdrawal “remains our very first priority,” he said, arguing that “about 80 percent of the withdrawal agreement had been approved”, particularly with regard to the bill of divorce and the rights of expatriate citizens, but not the thorny issue of the border in Ireland.
The “practical and proportionate” guidelines published by the government today are designed to “avoid, mitigate or manage the risk of any potential short-term disruption,” said Dominic Raab. “Our primary goal is to facilitate the continuity and smooth running of business, transport, infrastructure, research, aid programs and funding flows from the EU,” he said.
“In some cases, this means taking unilateral measures to maintain the greatest possible continuity in the short term, if there is no agreement,” he added. He cited the example of a temporary EU alignment in the field of medicines, recognising the batch testing of medicines produced within the EU and asking Brussels to do the same for medicines produced in the UK.
The United Kingdom already has three months of safety stocks “for more than 200 drugs” to deal with possible disruptions to supply, Mr Raab had said previously, specifying that he is working with the pharmaceutical industry to secure “six weeks” of additional stocks.
There will also be no risk of food shortage after Brexit, reassured Dominic Raab. “We have presented practical measures to mitigate any risk of disruption of [food] supply,” 30 percent of which comes from the EU. This will include the recognising of EU food standards. “So let me reassure you, contrary to what is widely asserted, you will continue to be able to enjoy a BLT after Brexit, and we have no intention of deploying the army to maintain food supplies.
On the other hand, the British must expect “a rise in [banking] costs and slower procedures” for financial transactions with the continent, warns the government. Businesses trading with the EU can also expect higher costs and paperwork. Once out of the EU, “we will be free to diverge” from common rules, said Dominic Raab. “But we will only do so when we are ready, on our terms, in the national interest of the United Kingdom, when it is the right time for the British people.”