Brexit & Aviation 114

We are now in that strange no-man’s-land between Christmas and the New Year.  Often a time when people are gathering their reflections on the year that’s passing.  It’s a time to look ahead too.  Look ahead with hope and optimism, in so far as one can.

There’s a couple of news stories floating around primed to stir-up new political conflicts as we burst into 2020.  A “will they or won’t they?” series of speculations about the rules that the City of London may or may not have to follow post Brexit is running.  Similar speculations could be applied to transport but that’s not at the top of the agenda just now.  It seems crazy to state the obvious but leaving an organisation based on law will have legal consequences regardless of the sector.

Next year, talks will proceed along the lines of the Political Declaration that was drawn-up by the two parties, in October last.  That document is non-binding but does set the tone for what the UK and EU want or wanted at the time.  No doubt a red line for the EU27 Member States in the 2nd phase of the Brexit negotiations will be a level playing field[1].  As I’ve pointed out before, in aviation technical regulations and standards are just as important as tariffs.  In my last item, I poo pooed “no alignment” because my Mr Spock like logic says; no one aims for a lose-lose outcome.  Do they?

Today, some right-wing activists are shouting; let’s get back to gallons, ounces and yards.  Having won battles like the change of the British passport colour to blue[2], there’s a group that has been emboldened by Brexit.  All British passports issued from early 2020 will be blue.  National newspapers[3] print the cry; let’s have temperature reported in Fahrenheit and liquids in pints and fluid ounces.  All this might be easily dismissed but it is as well to remember that a whole lot of things have been dismissed and then they came to be.  Unfortunately, for us appeasing a populist political trend is part of the play book of the new UK Government.  On 31 January the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) will come to an end.  The UK PM will next switch from phrases like: “Get Brexit Done” to “Taskforce Europe” to whitewash the fact that Brexit goes on and on.  At the same time the UK Parliament will become no more than a bystander in what’s to come.   

None of this retrograde thinking or smoke and mirrors is in the best interests of the Country.  We are at a time when digitisation is transforming the heart of aerospace manufacturing.  Aviation businesses are implementing significant changes to maximise opportunities in more integrated systems.  Being side-tracked into British imperial theme park romanticism will mean a declining marketplace.

These Brexit stories will be a part of the popular news in the year ahead but so will be the US Presidential race.  What happens in the US will have a global impact, especially if the incumbent is re-elected.  That will be in the foreground while EU – UK talks will be in the background until a crunch decision time comes.  There will be more than one of these crunch times throughout the year.  Expect a predicable line to be taken as the Conservatives tighten their grip on power.

[1] https://www.epc.eu/en/publications/Ensuring-a-post-Brexit-level-playing-field~26c1e0

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/passport-design-changes/changes-to-the-design-of-british-passports

[3] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/01/now-sovereign-nation-must-bring-back-imperial-units/

Brexit & Aviation 113

As we have found over the last 3-years and more, reports and reality are often far apart.  Being reported is that the British Prime Minster (PM) is saying that there will be “no alignment” with the European Union (EU) after Brexit is done[1].  Boosted by a UK Parliamentary majority this stark statement maybe no more than playing to the galleries.

However, political positions are hardening.  The UK Government has excluded an extension of the transition period and enshrine this in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB).  Many believe that this is not a good-faith implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU.

Now, the UK Parliament’s role in scrutinising any future relationship has been diminished.  So, if EU-UK negotiations go badly there’s no holding back the hard-core right-wingers who are unconcerned if the UK reverts to trading on only WTO terms.

So quickly to become bullish is a high-risk strategy. Having been at this process for so long it’s likely the EU will remain united and undaunted by the threat of a breakdown in talks.  Afterall, it deals with States that are bigger and more powerful than the UK.  So, maybe the UK PM is still primarily speaking to a domestic audience.  As the slogan “Get Brexit Done,” used by the Conservative Party in their 2019 General Election messaging fades into the background, the UK’s place in the world seems more vulnerable[2].

The aviation sector relies on long-term commitments to regulated markets.  Global investment is more likely with an assurance of stability and a sense of direction.  Contrary to right-wing political opinion good regulation benefits growth.  At the same time, it benefits sustainability as unprecedented climate change continue to escalate.

Thinking about how to achieve a close and constructive relationship with the EU is vital.  The practical downsides of Brexit is starting to become evident[3].  It could be that the political struggle for a Brexit is ending an initial stage.  Now, the daunting task to define Brexit is only just starting.

If anyone considers it’s easier for the UK to pivot towards the United States rather than the EU they are in for a shock.  Federal law governing international aviation less flexible and more complex than EU law whatever some may wish you to think.  Reality will bite quickly and not to the advantage of the UK.

There will be people thinking about these challenges over Christmas and the New Year.  Most of us will be happy not to hear a Brexit word or a three-letter abbreviation for a couple of weeks.  2019 will not be missed.  It’s quite enough to know that 2020 will be full of breaking news and tantrums about the ups and downs of this continuing saga.

[1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/12/20/boris-johnson-insists-will-no-alignment-eu-brexit/

[2] https://aviationweek.com/defense-space/getting-brexit-done-brings-defense-challenges

[3] https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/uk-news/huge-changes-british-holidaymakers-flying-17440064

Brexit & Aviation 112

It has been reported that the British Prime Minister will put his Brexit bill before MPs on Friday, 20 December.   Before the UK General Election (GE), the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) passed a vote on the floor of the House of Commons (HoC) by 329 votes to 299 votes.  However, the Prime Minister then withdrew the WAB.  Now, with an overall majority in the UK Parliament, the WAB should make progress and pass into UK law before the UK leaves the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020.

The appointment of the HoC Speaker takes place on Tuesday, 17 December.  The HoC must choose its Speaker after the GE, and this is the first thing it does on the first day it meets after the GE.  Then there’s the State opening of Parliament on is Thursday, 19 December.

EU leaders have expressed hope that the decisive UK GE victory last week will bring more clarity to the UK’s position in coming negotiations.  Meanwhile the EU has changed.  Ursula von der Leyen is in post as the first woman President of the European Commission.  The European Parliament (EP) 16 – 19 December session in Strasbourg has just kicked-off.

I assume that the 73 British MEPs elected will need to give up their seats in the European Parliament (EP).  The current composition (751 MEPs) of the EP continues to apply for as long as the UK is an EU Member State.  A new composition of the EP will apply at the date of the withdrawal of the UK (from 751 to down to 705 MEPs).

The EU Council presidency of held by Finland comes to an end as we end the year.  Next in line is Croatia: January-June 2020 and then Germany: July-December 2020.  Recently the European Commission has said that Europe must unblock Single European Sky (SES) under the leadership of the Croatian and German Presidencies.   This is strongly in the interest of the UK, but the UK will no longer be around the table in 2020.  Making SES work means reduced flying times and using less fuel.  Environmental imperatives.

Back in September this year, the UK Government and UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) expressed the view[1] that remaining a member of the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was a shared goal.  If the new UK Government and EU decide that this cannot be achieved, then much work will need to be undertaken.

On passage of the WAB into UK law, there will then be a transition period to undertake EU-UK negotiations, based on the Revised Political Declaration[1].   This document is very light on aviation matters.  The Government wants negotiations done by the end of 2020 and the deal in force at the start of 2021.  This is exceptionally speedy given the change of political climate and the vagueness of existing commitments.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/publications/revised-political-declaration_en

[1] CAP1714: The CAA’s guide to Brexit No Deal & Aviation Safety

Brexit & Aviation 111

And so, it begins.  It’s December Friday 13th.  The winter election is over.  The results of the UK General Election (GE) are with us[1].   The election victory for the UK Conservative Party is complete.  Their leader, Boris Johnson will continue as UK Prime Minister with an overall majority in the UK Parliament.

It’s almost certain that the Parliamentary scrutiny of the previously tabled Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) will now be a cursory matter as it’s pushed through at speed.  The UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) will come to an end.  Next year will be one that breaks ties that have linked continental Europe and the UK since my childhood.  Even now it’s not entirely clear what that will mean to either party.

Newly elected Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) are committed to Brexit.  That said, amongst them there’s a great number of different views as to the direction that should be taken post-Brexit.  Deciding the future EU-UK relationship with respect to aviation is a matter for the UK Government in its future negotiations with the EU.  At this stage it’s not clear what path that negotiation will take.

A cabinet reshuffle may take place on next Monday.  There are no signs that this will include Transport.  Transport related polices are not so evident from the Conservative’s election manifesto.  There’s some mention of efforts to boost productivity and innovation.  Also, investment in skills and training get a few lines.

UK MPs will return to the House of Commons (HoC) on Tuesday, 17 December.  Then the following Thursday is likely to see a new Queen’s Speech where the UK Government’s sets out its legislative agenda.  Britain is due to leave the EU on 31 January, the 4th deadline since the 2016 referendum.  It’s certain that January will be dominated by the legislative work to pass the WAB.

However, this is not Brexit “done”.  If the WAB passes, the UK will enter a transition phase where its relationship with the EU will, in practice remain unchanged until 31 December 2020.  In many ways the real work is just beginning.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2019-50765773