Testing the limits of the post-Brexit deal, Labour Party Conference

Tuesday, 27th September 2016 7:30 to 9:00 pm (BST) Liverpool, United Kingdom

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Event Summary

Open Europe and the Centre for European Reform (CER) hosted a joint panel debate at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, entitled, ‘Testing the limits of the post-Brexit deal’.

Liam Byrne MP, a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said, “People voted for a new relationship with the EU, therefore we won’t be able to deliver anything but a new relationship.” He suggested shifting from “free movement” to “fair movement” of people, adding that the “core” of any new UK-EU relationship has to be “a new settlement on free movement that disrupts trade the least.” He dismissed as “ludicrous” the idea that possible constraints on the free movement of people cannot be discussed, given that the free movement of capital and services is not perfect across the EU at the moment. Liam said he is “sceptical of staying in the customs union” after the Brexit vote, as this would restrict the UK’s ability to negotiate trade deals with other countries. He also stressed, “We will need all the brainpower of Open Europe and the CER to get this debate right.”

German MP Axel Schäfer, deputy chairman of the SPD parliamentary group, warned that “you will never find unanimity among 45 parliaments across Europe and/or a majority in the European Parliament” for a reform of the free movement of people. He stressed that the EU as a whole is currently facing an existential crisis, and said he “hoped” that the UK would trigger EU exit talks in January or February 2017 – so that the process could be concluded before the European Parliament elections in spring 2019. He suggested British voters should be given the opportunity of a second referendum on the withdrawal agreement that will be negotiated with the EU.

CER Director Charles Grant argued that “many people in Britain don’t get how bad the [UK-EU] deal is going to be…Our partners are going to be tough on the UK.” He said his advice to the UK Government was, “Be polite, don’t be rude. Don’t thump the table. We’re in a very weak position in this negotiation”, and added, “If we don’t want EU migration, there will be an economic price to pay.”

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