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11 June 2018

Lilian Greenwood Q&A: “The UK doesn’t have to end up politically isolated“

What does the future hold for freight?

By Rohan Banerjee

As the Brexit deal deadline approaches, Lilian Greenwood, the chair of the Transport Select Committee, speaks to Spotlight about what this means for UK imports and exports.

Will the UK still adhere to the EU’s Common Transport Policy post-Brexit on issues such as environmental impact, safety, and interoperable infrastructure?
It depends on the nature of the deals that the UK can secure. Existing deals – such as the EU-Switzerland Air Transport Agreement or the Agreement on the EEA – work largely on the basis of extending the application of existing EU policies, mutual recognition of policies and acceptance of reciprocal rights. There are perhaps signs from the European Commission that can be read as being optimistic about the progress being made on a deal.

The Commission has recently announced that transport, goods, customs, and the mobility framework will all be part of discussions on economic partnership. But we should be under no illusion that the government’s red lines around the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice could be a big stumbling block to any common transport agreement.

On 17th May, the Commission set out its plans for modernisation of Europe’s transport systems, with the aim of allowing Europeans to benefit from safer traffic, less polluting vehicles and more advanced technological solutions, while supporting the competitiveness of EU industry.

Regardless of whether the UK is in or out of the single market we will still need to act in broadly the same policy areas as the EU; economically to facilitate integrated transport; socially to promote safety; environmentally to reduce harmful emissions; on infrastructure to maintain, renew and build interoperable networks; and, internationally on common standards and agreements.

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What enforcement will there be on UK vehicles going into EU member states after Brexit?
Again, this depends on the detail in any deal. There are already issues with enforcement and exchange of data about drivers and owners to facilitate enforcement. Perhaps there is an opportunity, on the back of the Brexit negotiations, to reach some agreements on this.

Will there be an increase in fuel duty?
This is a matter for HM Treasury. Brexit aside, there are plenty of reasons why the government should look at its policy on fuel duty and the role it could play in encouraging modal shift and driving down harmful emissions from transport.

British importers and exporters tend to prefer direct mainline container services calling at their national ports and tend to dislike feeder services. Is there a risk that a politically isolated UK will no longer benefit from direct calls?
We don’t have to end up politically isolated. The nature of the deals we do with the EU and bilaterally with other countries will shape our trading relationships. We need to get our regulatory and fiscal frameworks right and we need deals that get us access to the markets that are important to our importers and exporters. It’s easy to say but much harder to do.

British shippers are nervous about losing the benefits of free trade and customs harmonisation with the single market. What can be done, if anything, to assuage those concerns?
It is the uncertainty about future arrangements that businesses find difficult to deal with. Once we know what the arrangements are they can start putting in place the measures they need to implement them, as well as reaping any benefits and cope with any detriment that the new arrangements bring.