The UK Government today presented a Brexit white paper releasing a 77-page document detailing Britain’s plan for leaving the European Union. There is some good news for the City in the white paper such as commitment to transition arrangements and the need to retain elements of Single Market membership. But I think it is also a missed opportunity for failing to offer any guarantees on the rights of EU nationals currently living and working in the UK.

I have previously looked at Theresa May’s Brexit speech earlier in January – click here – and topics mentioned in the white paper reconfirm issues raised in the PM’s speech.

Financial services

The topic of passporting for City firms is mentioned just once in the paper. However, it also says the UK should collaborate with the rest of Europe to maintain financial stability and strengthen collective oversight. Suggesting the UK wants to stay on a similar regulatory footing to the EU in order to keep strong financial ties between the City and the continent. This is sensible, but the devil (as always) will be in the detail (and implementation!).

Retain “elements” of the Single Market 

The white paper emphasises that the Government is looking to retain some elements of membership of the Single Market saying: “It makes no sense to start again from scratch when the UK and the remaining member states have adhered to the same rules for so many years.”

Transition arrangements

The Government has been keen to stress it will seek a “phased” implementation period for Brexit, with businesses given time to adjust to any new rules. Today’s paper mentions immigration controls, customs rules, regulatory frameworks and cross-border collaboration on justice as examples where transition periods will apply. This is welcome, but it is important that businesses get clarity over these transition arrangements sooner rather than later.

Rights of EU nationals in the UK

Interestingly the white paper claims that the UK Government has tried, and failed, to secure a deal protecting the rights of both UK nationals in EU and EU nationals in the UK. The paper blames other EU countries and refuses to guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in the UK.

Although I agree with the Government that such as deal is “the right and fair thing to do”, I disagree that the we need to wait. The lives of people should not be a bargaining chip.

Why doesn’t the UK Government provide certainty now?  The UK could take the lead on this, rather than play political football.

To be continued…

The Government has also confirmed it will bring out a new white paper on the Great Repeal Bill, which transposes EU regulation into British law. The Bill is expected to be formally introduced in the Queen’s Speech this year.