Brexit – key questions and challenges

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The Brexit talks are entering their end game. The next few weeks look crucial – ahead of the EU’s summit on June 28. And by November, the EU27 and the UK need to have finalised the divorce deal and agreed a political declaration on the shape of the future trade and security relationship.

Yet the main word I encounter in discussions with senior UK officials and politicians is ‘uncertainty’. It’s uncertain what sort of future trade deal the UK government is going to ask for – the cabinet remains deeply divided on that. It’s uncertain if the UK will agree a ‘backstop’ for Northern Ireland that ensures the Irish border remains open. And if they can’t, it looks as if the late June summit in Brussels will erupt into a major UK-EU dispute that some think could even lead to suspension of talks on the future relationship.

On May 21, the Scottish Centre on European Relations is holding an event in collaboration with the University of the Highlands and Islands and the European Commission’s Scotland office to discuss and debate these issues.

Hosted at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), a panel of three experts will give their assessment of the current challenges – from a media, thinktank, and higher education viewpoint. This is a public event, free of charge.

While much is uncertain, the timescale is pretty clear. If the UK and EU don’t finalise their divorce deal by November, there won’t be time for Westminster, the European Parliament and the EU27 leaders to ratify it ahead of the Brexit date of March 29, 2019. Some think that date could be extended by a few weeks but that’s unlikely to help much. Others argue there is so much uncertainty that the UK should ask the EU for a longer transition period but Theresa May has ruled that out for now.

The Scottish Government – and many Labour backbench MPs – have argued for a ‘soft’ Brexit of staying in the EU’s customs union and single market.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn supports a customs union not staying in the single market. Theresa May says she will take the UK out of both – but cannot agree with her cabinet on a future ‘customs partnership’ with the EU (which some in Brussels have labelled magical thinking). Amidst this uncertainty, some are calling for another EU referendum – on whatever deal is agreed (if one is) – and some want the UK to choose between the deal and staying in the EU.

We will debate all these questions and more on Monday (May 21), so come and join us in the AP Orr Lecture Room, SAMS, Sheina Marshall Building, Oban, PA37 1QA.

The event runs from 5.30pm to 7pm – with tea and coffee available from 5pm.

The event is free but please register on our website – www.scer.scot –  to get a free ticket.