Scottish minister on Brexit gives warning on World Trade Organisation status
A “NIGHTMARE OF NEGOTIATION” would ensue if the UK decided to erect tariffs and quotas between itself and the European single market according to Mike Russell MSP, the Scottish Government minister for Brexit talks.
Russell told the European and External Affairs committee of MSPs that leaving the European market for a World Trade Organisation (WTO) position would mean “immensely complicated” arrangements with tariffs and quotas imposed on the billions of Scottish exports to the continent.
The “difficulties” of this arrangement – which would also risk costs to Scottish business internationally – are compounded by the “confusing” position of UK trade minister Liam Fox on the issue.
Russell told the committee that research work was underway to consider the scale of the threat that new trade cost barriers would have to the range of industries that are involved in cross-continent trade.
With no UK negotiating position after the Brexit vote, there remains continued uncertainty for financial services, exports, manufacturing, agriculture, science and university sectors and EU nationals.
Russell added that a position operating within WTO trading norms would give other states the ability to “create difficulties”, and that it would be possible to “passport all your existing tariffs into the new situation”.
Russell described the statements of UK minister for trade Liam Fox as “confusing”, after he claimed to the WTO that there would be “no legal vacuum” after Brexit.
Committee member Richard Lochhead MSP raised the example of high import tariffs on whisky in Brazil as an example of taxation that could apply across the world if the UK leaves its EU market deal.
The UK currently has 53 trade policies enacted through the EU that would all disappear and require renegotiation from scratch outside the single market.
Trade policy is reserved, meaning that the Tory government would have unilateral legal power, with limited influence for the Scottish Government.
Russell is currently trying to hold the UK Government to its promise that EU negotiations can only begin when there is a common UK position, including between Scotland and the rest of the UK. No common framework for all UK negotiations have yet been arrived at.
Russell was appointed as the Scottish Government’s minister for Brexit negotiations with the UK Government near the end of August.
Since then he held a debate in the Scottish Parliament, laying out a commitment to try to keep Scotland within the European Union.
He met David Davis in London a fortnight ago, attempting to agree a framework for representing the Scottish Government within the process of agreeing the UK negotiating position.
The pair described the talks as “positive”, while Russell added that he hoped an agreement would be reached in quick succession.
Earlier this month ex-secretary of state for Scotland Michael Moore said that divisions between Scotland and the Tory party over Brexit makes a UK-wide position “almost impossible” to reach.
Concerns have been raised by the Scottish Government, the Irish Government, and the business community (especially the city of London) that the UK is heading for a ‘hard Brexit’ outside the single market and without freedom of movement.
Davis said continuing with membership of the European single market would be “very improbable” given Tory hopes of cutting off migration from the EU.
Various Labour MPs have also spoken out against immigration over the past few weeks, although leader Jeremy Corbyn gave a full-hearted defence of migration in his conference speech yesterday [Wednesday 28 September].
Agreeing a basis for representation between Scotland and the UK is the first of dozens of hurdles in the way of completing any Brexit agreement, the timetable for which is far from settled.
The UK Government hopes to unilaterally leave the EU without parliamentary approval during a two year negotiation with EU states and institutions.
However, there are already two legal challenges to the UK Government’s attempts to avoid the need for parliamentary approval for triggering article 50, the mechanism for the UK to leave the 28 member state block.
Picture courtesy of Scottish Parliament TV
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