The UK has called on the European Union to prevent sensitive government information leaking out after Brexit, in a tit-for-tat proposal that underlines the increasing distrust between London and Brussels.
In the latest in a series of position papers outlining the two sides’ legal obligations upon separation, British officials have demanded that any information marked classified before Britain leaves the EU should continue to enjoy similar protection after Brexit.
Such protection might cover sensitive economic data shared during previous EU trade discussions, which could prove more sensitive now Britain is seeking to strike rival bilateral deals.
The new UK paper on confidentiality and access to documents mirrors a similar document produced by the EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, in June and, in itself, is unlikely to be as contentious as the many areas of policy divergence.
However, it follows tensions over confidentiality in Brussels, where some British nationals working for the European commission complain of being frozen out of work where their loyalty to the EU is suspected as potentially compromised by Brexit.
The proposed reciprocal nature of the deal to extend confidentiality has also attracted criticism from transparency campaigners in Britain, who say it may give the government more excuses to hide embarrassing information from the public.
David Lowry, an expert on the nuclear industry, claimed the “current regime of sharing documents confidentially with the European commission covers up government duplicity”.
“[This] denies citizens the opportunity to assess the integrity of documents provided in secret to the commission that directly impacts on public policy and spending of taxpayers’ money,” he said. “The government wants to maintain this exclusion of British citizens from what they are doing.”
The Department for Exiting the European Union argues it is important that both sides have equal trust in the ongoing security of shared information.
‘“The UK considers that arrangements agreed with respect to confidentiality and the handling of information produced while it was a member state should be reciprocal,” it said. “Individuals (of any nationality) who are bound … prior to the UK’s withdrawal, should continue, after the UK’s withdrawal, to respect their obligations in respect of information obtained through this work,” said the paper, which is the second in a flurry of policy statements expected this week.
DExEU also made further demands in response to Barnier’s proposal on the rules governing commerce during the separation period. The EU had called for “goods on the market” to be subject to existing consumer protection, but the UK has suggested that lucrative service sector contracts enjoy the same protection.
The UK is seeking to demonstrate that the EU has more to lose by not agreeing comprehensive free trade agreements, and that talks must run in parallel with separation discussions.
“These papers will help give businesses and consumers certainty and confidence in the UK’s status as an economic powerhouse after we have left the EU,” said the Brexit secretary, David Davis. “They also show that as we enter the third round of negotiations, it is clear that our separation from the EU and future relationship are inextricably linked.”
Last week the UK issued papers on customs and Northern Ireland, having previously been criticised for dragging its heels during early negotiation rounds.
Three more papers are expected this week, including one on the vital issue of how future dealings between the UK and EU can be subject to court oversight.
Barnier has called for an ongoing role for the European court of justice, but Davis is expected to suggest an alternative modelled on a similar arbitration court used by members of the European Free Trade Association.