To describe last week’s events in Parliament as historic is to understate their importance. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill was finally passed, after more than eleven months of debate. Despite the best efforts of the House of Lords and a small number of recalcitrant Conservatives, it emerged from the process without heavy amendment. Indeed, much to the undoubted dismay of many of their Lordships, those amendments that were made improved, rather than weakened, the Bill.
The passage of the Bill marks a sea-change in the way our country is governed. It has provided the mechanism for the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, the legislation under which Brussels regulations are automatically absorbed into our domestic legal system. It means that once again the United Kingdom will be self-governing. In my book, it has restored British parliamentary democracy.
Now the focus switches to Brussels, and the European Council, which will be held at the end of this week. Again, this will be a hugely important juncture in the Brexit process. It is important that the EU should now show itself willing to engage positively in negotiations as to the shape of the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the continuing 27.
There can be no doubt that there remains significant uncertainty as to what that relationship will be. Last week, Airbus, a very important local employer, expressed its concern that the Government should provide greater clarity over the future relationship.
It is entirely reasonable for Airbus to seek such clarity. Of course, the Government has already provided a very strong indication of the outcome it seeks. In her speeches at the Mansion House, Florence and the Guildhall, the Prime Minister made it clear that the UK’s preference is for a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement. Given that the UK is currently a part of the EU, it should be possible to agree such a relationship very swiftly. After all, the UK is presently in full regulatory alignment with the continuing member states and there is therefore very little to negotiate in that regard.
Nevertheless, Airbus is entitled to still further clarity, which is why it is important that the Government’s Brexit White Paper should be published as soon as possible. Ideally, I would have preferred it to be available before the Council. I understand that it is now likely to be published in July, thereby providing Airbus with further details of the Government’s position.
At the same time, Airbus must remember that there are two parties to this negotiation. I sincerely hope that it is also asking for similar clarity from the European Commission, which has so far provided next to no detail of its preferred negotiated outcome and gives every appearance of intransigence.
Airbus, of course, is in a strong position to demand such clarity from the EU, given that it is part owned by the German, French and Spanish governments. For the sake of its loyal workforce in North Wales, it should be doing so as a matter of priority.