The 10 most important Brexit questions the Tories need to answer
Labour today challenged Theresa May to answer 170 questions about Brexit .
They ranged from what sort of trade deal the UK is looking for once we leave the European Union, to which consumer and workers’ rights will be protected.
Together they underline the sheer complexity of leaving an organisation we have been a member of for more than 40 years.
So what are the main points raised by Labour?
1. Will we stay in the single market?
In the EU we are members of the single market, which means we can trade tariff-free with the other 27 members of the bloc. We are also part of a customs union, so all states impose the same tariffs on imports from countries outside the EU. For example, there is a 10% tariff on all cars imported into the EU. Membership comes at the price of £136million to Brussels’ coffers.
There is a split within the Government about whether we remain in both. Theresa May has said restricting immigration must take preference over our membership of the single market.
The UK is set for a difficult divorce from the EU
2. Are we going for hard or soft Brexit?
A soft Brexit would see us maintain access to the single market and the customs union and accept some EU rules. A hard Brexit would see us quit the single market and the customs union in return for control of our borders. We would then be able to strike our own deals under World Trade Organisation rules.
Labour wants to know how long it would take to join the WTO and whether would we continue to operate under EU rules while waiting to join.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox , who wants a hard Brexit, believes we can switch seamlessly to the WTO rules and then strike trade deals better than the ones they have with the EU. However, joining the WTO requires the agreement of its 164 members.
And until we start striking new deals, Britain could face WTO-agreed tariffs that would cost firms £6.5billion a year in export taxes.
What will happen to foreign workers living in the UK and Brits living in the EU?
3. Will we retain control of our borders?
Theresa May has made limiting immigration a priority when it comes to negotiating Brexit.
But certain industries such as farming and the care sector are heavily reliant on foreign workers. Then there is the question of what rights EU nationals living in the UK will have once we leave in April 2019.
May has refused to give a guarantee they can stay here. At the Tory Party conference, Dr Fox said they would be key to negotiating Brexit .
Labour also wants to know what protection the Government will give to UK nationals living on the Continent and if UK nationals travelling to the EU will need visas.
4. Will there still be subsidies for the UK?
British farmers receive up to £3billion a year in subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy.
The UK is also getting more than £5billion between 2014 and 2020 in European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund payments. Labour wants to know whether the Government will continue to match the funding. The Chancellor has agreed to underwrite all EU funding until 2020. No commitment has been made beyond that date.
The UK will still have an open border with an EU country – the Republic of Ireland
5. Why is Northern Ireland so important?
When we leave Europe, Northern Ireland will have the only land border with the EU.
The Government has confirmed that Common Travel agreement between Northern Ireland and the Republic will remain post- Brexit and there will be no return of border posts and patrols.
This poses questions as to how the Government will fulfil its promise to regain control of our borders and limit migration.
But any other decision would have threatened the Northern Ireland peace process.
6. What about my rights?
Some rights, such as maternity and parental leave, are protected under British law. But many protections, such as the right to annual leave and the working-time directive, are only covered by EU law.
In her conference speech last week, Theresa May pledged that workers’ rights will not just be protected but enhanced.
She said: “Existing workers’ legal rights will continue to be guaranteed in law – and they will be guaranteed as long as I am Prime Minister.”
Many workers’ protections are only covered by EU law
7. What about all the different agencies?
The EU is not just a member of the single market, it is a member of the European Medicines Agency, law enforcement agency Europol, the European Chemicals Agency, the European Aviation Safety Agency – and dozens of others.
Labour wants to know if we still remain a member of all these and what will happen if we don’t.
The PM is expected to push hard to keep the European Arrest Warrant despite some Brexiteers wanting to cut all ties with the EU.
But the Government has yet to say what will happen to our membership of the other agencies.
Will Brits still be covered by the European Health Insurance Card?
8. Is leaving the EU bad for our health?
At the moment, UK nationals can obtain free health care if they fall ill in another EU country through the European Health Insurance Card service.
As the deal is reciprocal, EU nationals are also entitled to NHS care when in this country.
Labour wants to know if this deal will continue after we leave and, if not, how it will address the increase in health-care costs and travel insurance for UK holidaymakers travelling in the EU.
9. Consumer protection
Thanks to EU law, British nationals benefit from a range of consumer protection laws, such as compensation for delayed flights and a cap on roaming charges when you use your mobile abroad. There is no limit on the amount of alcohol and cigarettes we can bring back from the Continent.
This is another subject to be filed under “to be decided”. But there is a danger the cost of travelling overseas could rise and the duty-free limit of 200 cigarettes, 16 litres of beer and four litres of wine will be brought back.
10. Will MPs have a say in what happens?
The Prime Minister has repeatedly insisted there will be “no running commentary” on the Brexit negotiations while under way.
Those wanting Parliament to question the deal are accused of trying to thwart the will of the 17 million people who voted to leave.
But the Government caved in yesterday and agreed MPs could scrutinise plans before Article 50 – the mechanism for leaving the EU – is triggered.
- The full list of Labour’s 170 questions can be found here