On the face of it, the two latest position papers published by the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) look like a statement of the bleedin’ obvious.
The shorter of the two spells out a need, post-Brexit, for the UK and the EU to respect the confidentiality of documents and data that were exchanged when Britain was in the union.
That sounds pretty obvious and pretty straightforward and it is hard to see why either side would have any objection to that being the case.
The second of the two papers, concerning what the DExEU calls “Goods on the Market”, also sounds straightforward – but is actually rather more complicated.
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It sets out four principles that it wants in place once Britain has left the EU.
The first is that any goods that were placed on the market prior to Brexit should continue to be sold in the UK and the EU without any extra restrictions. Again, so far so good, all pretty straightforward stuff.
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Principle number two, though, may prove to be a bit more contentious.
DExEU wants no unnecessary duplication of compliance activities after Brexit, in other words, where products have already been approved by the EU, it should not be necessary for them to be approved again after Brexit.
Yet this goes further than the EU has so far been prepared to concede.
It has, for example, argued that a car made in Britain must undergo approval by the EU all over again after Brexit, even though it may already have been approved for sale already.
The CBI, among others, has argued that this would add significant extra costs to that car and would hit the competitiveness of British-made goods, as well as hitting the pockets of consumers here and in the EU.
So the employers’ organisation has welcomed today’s position paper, calling it a “significant improvement on the EU’s current proposal, although it has reiterated its desire for a transitional arrangement under which the UK would remain in the EU’s single market and customs union until a “comprehensive new deal” is in force.
The third principle set out by the UK is, again, pretty straightforward.
This is that there should be continued oversight of a product placed on the market before Brexit for the lifetime of that product – so that the health and safety of patients and consumers remains paramount.
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The aim here is to ensure that regulation of products remains seamless after Brexit.
The UK Government is here singling out areas such as food standards – it wants to ensure, perhaps with an eye to ensuring affairs such as the horsemeat scandal are not repeated, that products in the food chain remain traceable.
Another area it cites, perhaps recalling the Volkswagen emissions scandal, is the auditing of vehicle manufacturers.
In all cases, Brexit Secretary David Davis’s department is arguing regulators, in both the EU and the UK, following Brexit should continue to have the same oversight of products placed on the market before Brexit that they did previously.
Unsurprisingly, this has been welcomed by the Food and Drink Federation, the industry body for one of Britain’s most important export industries.
The fourth principle set out by DExEU is a crucial one.
It wants to ensure, in any post-Brexit agreement, that, where services are sold alongside goods, there should be no restrictions placed on their sale.
The department points out that, increasingly, the sale of goods and services are interconnected and that adding unnecessary bureaucracy to the latter could hit the former.
An example here would be the way Rolls-Royce, one of the UK’s most important manufacturing companies, not only builds jet engines but also agrees to maintain those engines after they have been sold – a very lucrative line of work for the company that ensures it has a predictable earnings stream many years into the future.
DExEU points out these principles are all aimed at allowing business to continue seamlessly after Brexit.
With the EU exporting more to Britain than it does to Brazil, Russia, India and China combined, it is banking on Brussels going along with it.
However, as has already proved to be the case with the Brexit discussions, what one side sees as reasonable and straightforward has appeared to the other to be anything but.