May begins task of managing Eurosceptic expectations

Britain appears set to allow EU regulators to oversee some sectors for interim period

British prime minister Theresa May: said she was confident a full Brexit deal. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

British prime minister Theresa May: said she was confident a full Brexit deal. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

 

As Theresa May’s government gets ready to trigger article 50 on Wednesday, some work is already under way to manage the expectations of those who say Britain must have nothing whatsoever to do with the European Union post-Brexit.

While much attention has been on the hot-button issues of immigration and trade, regulation is also a crunch issue, with UK businesses subject to regulatory oversight from European bodies in a whole range of sectors, from aviation, to pharma, to the nuclear sector, to road haulage and energy and so on. The Confederation of British Industry has said 34 new national regulators would be needed to replace the EU ones.

London now seems to be accepting that this cannot be done in two years.The Financial Times on Monday reported one Whitehall official as saying: “We simply don’t have the expertise in some areas and wouldn’t have the time to start up new agencies from scratch.”

Delicate line

So it appears Britain is willing to allow the EU regulators to continue to oversee some sectors, as least for an interim period. But May will have to tread a delicate line. On one side there is sheer practicality – and a business lobby worried that it will be shut out of EU markets if regulation cannot be sorted quickly, and that it would have to pay the bill of replacement national regulators.

On the other side she has the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party saying that out must “mean out” who will watch her every move in the talks.

Theresa May said on Monday that she was confident a full Brexit deal – including an exit deal and a new trading arrangement – could be in place by autumn 2018. Most observers think that while an exit deal could be negotiated, it will take much longer to finalise a trade deal.

This is unless Britain is willing to stay in the customs union, meaning it would have to drop its opposition to controlling immigration and removing itself from the control of the European Court of Justice. And as that was the whole point of Brexit in the first place, that looks unlikely.

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