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Statement from the Policy & Resources Committee providing an update on Brexit

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Wednesday 01 February 2017

Policy & Resources Committee President Gavin St Pier gave a statement to the Assembly to provide an update on engagement with the UK government following the referendum decision to leave the EU.

Mr Bailiff,

It is has been two months since Deputy Le Tocq addressed this Assembly on the work undertaken in engaging with the government of the United Kingdom following the referendum decision to leave the European Union.    Today is an opportune time to update the States on recent developments and the work to manage the impact this may have on Guernsey.

Roundtable Meetings

We have been continuing the discussions on the four priority areas identified in conjunction with the other Crown Dependencies: fisheries and agriculture, financial services, free movement of people and the customs union.  Roundtable meetings between UK and Crown Dependency officials have been held on the free movement of people, fisheries and the customs union.  A further meeting is planned on financial services in the next few weeks. 

These initial meetings, provide an opportunity to ensure that the UK understands our position and understands the impact of the UK's exit on the islands.   The next phase of meetings is about to begin, which will allow the opportunity to discuss the UK's options for its future arrangements. 

Repeal Bill

Sir, meetings have also been held to discuss the UK's so-called 'Great Repeal Bill.' The Great Repeal Bill was announced by the UK's Prime Minister in 2016.  It will be an immense and complex exercise to transpose all the relevant EU acquis (in other words, the body of EU Law) into domestic UK law.  This is to ensure there are no holes in the UK statute book.  Many things in the UK are dependent on EU law.  Services need to keep running the day after the UK's exit and to do so, legislation needs to be relied upon.  This means that certain legislation needs to be preserved. The task of unpicking 44 years of integration can then follow in a more orderly fashion.  Why is this of interest to Guernsey? 

The special arrangement that governs the Bailiwick's relationship with the EU, Protocol 3, means that a certain but limited part of the acquisapplies in Guernsey - in particular on matters relating to the free movement of goods.  Some EU legislation has also voluntarily been adopted by Guernsey in order to comply with relevant EU standards.  This means, that the States will need to undertake an equally detailed exercise, albeit - fortunately - on a more limited scale.  This work is being scoped out and a proposal will need to be presented to this Assembly.  In other words, in due course, we will need our own local version of the Great Repeal Bill.

Ministerial Engagement

We have been engaging closely with UK Ministers.  The second quarterly meeting was held in London last Wednesday, 25th January, with Robin Walker, Minister at the Department for Exiting the EU.  Also in attendance was Mark Garnier, who knows both financial services and the island well.  Mr Garnier is a Minister at the newly formed Department for International Trade.  We discussed the progress made on engagement with the UK to date. 

I was particularly pleased to secure the Ministers' commitment to the Common Travel Area, which Guernsey currently forms part of, recognising that the free movement of people and goods with the UK are rights, long pre-dating the UK's accession to the EU - and rights which are ultimately underpinned by the relationship first described in our historic Royal Charters.   

We discussed how the future of UK trade policy might relate to Guernsey - and how the island might benefit from the UK's development of its own network of Free Trade Agreements, which may open up the island's businesses to new markets.  We also discussed how the Department for International Trade could support the development of our own trade - and we, in particular Deputy Trott - will follow-up that dialogue.

I took the opportunity, once again, to push the principle that the UK cannot negotiate on behalf of Guernsey against our wishes; nor can the islands be used in the negotiations in a way that is contrary to our interests.  The decisions for the UK must not be taken in isolation. 

The UK Government has a duty to represent our interests internationally, even where these differ from the UK's interests.

The discussions are now moving from being focused on fact finding, into an exploration of how the options for the UK work for the Bailiwick of Guernsey.  Keeping pace with this engagement will be challenging, but is vital if Guernsey is to remain part of the debate during the negotiation phase, which will start after Article 50 is triggered before the end of March.  We must be ready to adapt to whatever exit deal and new trading relationship the UK secures for itself. 

House of Lords and the Justice Committee visit

Sir, our engagement with the UK is not just with UK government officials and Ministers - but with the whole of the UK's Parliament.  The Westminster Parliament will be involved in the process of exiting the EU, in particular following the recent Miller case, and it is important that our interests are widely understood.  Alongside engagement with Parliamentarians directly - and through the All Party Parliamentary Channel Islands Group - we have also been engaging with a number of Parliamentary inquiries.

On 20th December, I attended a hearing of the influential House of Lords' EU Select Committee, alongside the Chief Ministers of Jersey and the Isle of Man. The hearing was part of a short inquiry that the Committee is holding on Brexit and the Crown Dependencies.  Some of the questioning was technical in its nature and provided an opportunity to explore the impact of Brexit, our status as a 'third country' and how that reflected on the UK's own future.  It was an opportunity to ensure that the House of Lords is aware of the UK's responsibility to represent our interests internationally.  The Committee was genuinely interested in the islands, the impact on its residents and whether the UK government was adequately engaged.  The transcript of this hearing is available on the UK Parliament's website. 

On the 24th and 25th January, a delegation of the House of Commons Justice Committee visited the island to continue to gather evidence for its inquiry into Brexit and the Crown Dependencies. 

Unlike the Lords' Committee, the Justice Committee's mandate is restricted to examining the expenditure, administration and policy of the Ministry of Justice.  It is not mandated to review the impact of exit from the EU on the islands, or how the islands have responded.  It is responsible for holding the UK government to account with regard to how well it is undertaking the task of engaging with the Crown Dependencies.

The delegation - who visited at the invitation of the Policy & Resources Committee - consisted of its Chairman, Bob Neill MP, Kate Green MP and Alex Chalk MP.  There was a full itinerary agreed with the Committee, which included meetings with political representatives of the Principal Committees most impacted by Brexit, policy experts and industry representatives.  The delegation also spent time with the Law Officers and with a delegation from Sark's Chief Pleas.  The Committee will meet with representatives from Alderney at a later date.

I am sure that the subsequent reports from both the Common's Justice Committee and the Lord's EU Committee will also ensure that we can refer back, should the quality of engagement currently being experienced, waiver.

Prime Minister's speech and impact on resources

Sir, on 17th January, the UK Prime Minister announced her government's plan and objectives for exiting the EU.  Much of this plan echoes the objectives agreed by this Assembly in June when it debated the policy letter entitled "Managing the implications for Guernsey because of the UK's changing relationship with the EU". 

The Prime Minister advocated: certainty; sovereignty and retaining autonomy; a global facing economy; tariff free trade with the UK; the control of immigration to manage population levels, whilst preventing the loss of labour and skills; as well as the preservation of the Common Travel Area.  These are all aims to which Guernsey aspires and embraces. 

Reassuringly, the Prime Minister also stated that the UK wants to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK.  Given the close ties in our immigration regimes, this is also a reassurance to those EU nationals that reside in Guernsey.  

The UK's exit will be a negotiation with give and take on both sides, but as is clear from the objectives set out by their Prime Minister's speech, the UK is looking to try and head to a destination that will fit the island's own needs.

Now these objectives are clearer, six months after our own objectives were debated, the island is better placed to identify the resources it needs to handle the engagement, during the exit negotiations.  A business case is being prepared to second additional expertise, capability and capacity into the External and Constitutional Relations team, to ensure that we have the requisite resources to work on the engagement strategy. 

This will include the co-ordination of the discussions with the UK in the negotiation phase, alongside the existing priorities and demands from the ongoing work created by other developments in the UK, EU and the rest of the world.  This business case will be reviewed and considered by the Policy & Resources Committee shortly.

A successful Brexit for the island has self-evidently become one of the key priorities for this term of government.  Accordingly, the Policy & Resources Committee have agreed that our political engagement will be led by a triumvirate, headed by me, as President of the Policy & Resources Committee, supported by the Vice President, Deputy Trott and Deputy Le Tocq, the member with responsibility for external relations.  Whilst it is important that we all do our part by waking up and thinking about the impact of Brexit on our areas of interest - and I thank, for example, Deputy Prow for his thoughts and input given his pertinent experience from his professional career - but we also want to ensure we have clear leadership: someone who is responsible for lying awake at night, worrying about it too.

We plan to meet regularly to keep track of developments, provide overviews and engage with all other Principal Committees - particularly, of course, the Committees forHome Affairs and Economic Development - as well as business representatives and individual stakeholders.  This will ensure that the Committee remains engaged with residents and local industry.

Supreme Court Judgment

On 24 January, the UK's Supreme Court handed down a judgment in the case of R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union - in other words, the Brexit case on triggering Article 50.    We are reviewing the detail of the judgment.  We have had, and will continue to have dialogue with the UK government on the consequences for us in Guernsey of the Millercase.  The requirement for UK Parliamentary approval hinges on the special nature of the European Communities Act 1972.  This is the legislative instrument that acts as a conduit for making EU law supreme in the UK.  The Bailiwick has a similar domestic law which has a similar but much narrower impact via Protocol 3. 

The case - whilst on an important but narrow point - highlights that the Crown Dependencies' unique constitutional history and relationship means that we aredifferent; and consequently we must not -and indeed cannot- be forgotten by the United Kingdom at anystage in the Brexit process.  Throughout the whole exit process, it is absolutely essential that we preserve Guernsey's international identity and constitutional position.  Accordingly, given this judgement, consideration is being given to placing a second policy letter before this Assembly.  This policy letter will need to acknowledge the UK's decision to trigger Article 50, following consideration in the UK Parliament of the European Union Withdrawal Bill.

Sir, we are committed to keeping the States updated on developments.  We will place matters before the Assembly for consideration; and we will work closely with the Principal Committees that will need to develop policy and legislative proposals, to respond to the changing relationship we will have with the EU. 

So far, the islands' interests are being heard and rest assured we will take every opportunity to ensure that remains the case in the months ahead.

 

 

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