The UK Government has been warned it faces a “race against time” to thrash out a deal with the EU after publishing its white paper setting out its plans for an Association Agreement with the EU.
Ministers won cautious approval for their plans from business leaders, but are set for a tough fight against eurosceptics in their own party who denounced the plan as “vassalage”.
The 98-page document sets out a significantly “softer” version of Brexit than desired Tory Brexiteers, prompting the resignation of Boris Johnson and David Davis from Mrs May’s Cabinet earlier this week.
It involves the UK accepting a “common rulebook” on trade in goods, with a treaty commitment to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules.
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The UK would enter an Association Agreement with the EU, making continued payments for participation in shared agencies and programmes.
An independent arbitration panel set up to resolve UK-EU disputes would seek guidance from the European Court of Justice, but only on the interpretation of EU law.
CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn welcomed the plan putting “pragmatism before politics”, but warned there were still “gaps” in the plan on the future VAT regime and customs systems that needed to be filled before a crucial EU summit in October.
“With three months left to go, it is now a race against time,” Ms Fairbairn said. “This is a matter of national interest. There’s not a day to lose.”
Liz Cameron, the director of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, welcomed plans for visa-free travel for tourism and short-term business activity, as well as a UK-EU Youth Mobility Scheme.
However, Ms Cameron added that labour-intensive the Scottish hospitality, manufacturing, oil and gas, and food processing sectors “need urgent clarity on the longer-term arrangements for the recruitment of workers from EU and non-EU countries.”
There were shambolic scenes as the document was unveiled, with Commons speaker John Bercow forced to suspend the session of parliament so MPs could be issued with copies of the white paper.
The Speaker rebuked Mr Raab, saying it was “most regrettable” that journalists had been briefed on the contents of the document on Thursday morning, before MPs had a chance to look at a copy.
The new Brexit Secretary faced hostile questioning from all sides, including his own. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chairman of the backbench European Research Group, said the proposals amount to “vassalage” and “a bad deal for Britain”.
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The Scottish Government’s External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop said the white paper had “fallen short on employment rights and environmental protections” and offered “little reassurance” on the economy.
“While the paper provides an indication that the UK wants to participate in pan-EU programmes in areas such as science and research, there continue to be too many unknowns on issues such as whether the UK’s proposals can deliver continued use of the European Arrest Warrant and what they mean for the future migration of people,” Ms Hyslop said.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said he would assess the White Paper to see if it was “workable and realistic” before meeting Mr Raab next week.