Brexit: What’s a “Germany plus” deal?

Published: 15th Feb 2019

In brief

Claim

Remaining in the EU gives us the right to keep control of our borders and stay out of the Schengen agreement on free movement.

Conclusion

Remaining would allow us to carry out border checks but the UK couldn’t opt out of free movement—EU citizens would continue having the right to freely move to and work in the UK.

 

Remaining in the EU gives us the right to send people from other countries home if they can’t support themselves.

 

Correct (although so does leaving).

 

Remaining in the EU allows us to stay out of the Euro.

 

Correct (although so does leaving).

 

Remaining in the EU gives us the right to prevent Turkey joining the EU.

 

Correct—each EU member has a veto on other countries joining the EU.

 

Remaining in the EU gives us the power to stop the creation of a European army.

 

Correct—each EU member has a veto on common defence policies.

 

Remaining in the EU gives us the right to vote on our laws. And a court to make sure that British people and businesses are fairly treated.

 

Correct, remaining would mean UK citizens have a vote on legislators and to be heard in court (so does leaving).

 

Remaining in the EU gives us a vote on how government spends our money.

 

Correct, remaining would mean UK citizens vote on legislators who pass government budgets (so does leaving).

 

Remaining in the EU gives British businesses the right to buy and sell across Europe without tariffs or checks.

 

Correct.

 

Remaining in the EU means we have ample supplies of fresh fruit and medicine.

 

Correct, although it’s difficult to say how severe medicine and food shortages – if there are shortages - might be after Brexit.

 

The UK gets a one-third reduction on the fee we pay for being in the EU.

 

The UK gets a rebate on its EU budget contribution, which averaged 24% from 2013-2017. The EU has signalled that it proposes to scrap rebates (for all EU countries that receive one) over the next decade.

Claim 1 of 10

Amid debate over the post-Brexit direction of the EU-UK relationship, some pro-EU social media accounts have taken a novel approach to promoting the benefits of remaining in the EU—by referring to it as a “Germany plus” deal.



The argument is that the UK remaining in the EU would see it continue to receive all the benefits of membership, in addition to some special privileges not afforded to other EU members like Germany.

Some of the benefits listed by the graphic are more commonly associated with arguments for leaving the EU, such as taking control of our borders and laws, and avoiding being part of an EU army.

But how accurate are the claims? In summary, most of the “benefits” could be had either if we remained in EU, or if we left—but the claims are broadly accurate as descriptions of the EU status quo.

Of the issues raised in the claims, the greatest degree of immigration control is only available by leaving, while tariff free trade with the EU and the ability to veto various EU decisions could only be guaranteed by remaining. (Though we might be able to leave the EU and keep tariff free trade, that outcome depends on negotiations with the EU.)

One claim about the UK’s rebate on EU budget contributions is uncertain, as the EU has signalled its intention to end such rebates.

The Claims

“[Staying in the EU gives us the right] to keep control [of] our borders (stay out of the Schengen agreement on free movement)”

This depends on how you interpret “control of our borders”. Ultimately both leaving and remaining allows the UK to carry out border checks on people, but only leaving the EU allows the UK to set limits on EU migration.

The government has said it will end free movement of people from the EU and set its own immigration policy, with no preferential access for EU citizens after 2020.

Staying in the EU would means we can do border checks on who is coming into the country. But EU law means we couldn’t stop EU citizens coming to the UK if they met certain conditions and so couldn’t, for example, set a cap on EU immigration.

While the UK remains in the EU, citizens from other EU countries can travel to and live in the UK if they meet various obligations which vary depending on how long they stay.

Unlike most other EU member states—and some countries outside the EU—the UK is not part of the Schengen passport-free area because it hasn’t signed the Schengen agreement.

Part of the Schengen agreement means the 26 signatories agree to not carry out border checks between each other. For example, you can drive from France to Belgium with no checks, because the assumption is that Belgium is happy to let in anyone that France was also happy to let in.

That’s not the case with the UK. If you travel from France to the UK or vice-versa, your passport will be checked. The only exception is Ireland with whom the UK maintains a separate Common Travel Area allowing check-free movement of people between the two countries.

“[Staying in the EU gives us the right] to send people from other countries home if they can’t support themselves”

For stays in the UK of over three months, EU citizens and their family members “if not working — must have sufficient resources and sickness insurance to ensure that they do not become a burden on the social services of the host Member State during their stay.”

The EU says that host countries can ask EU residents to leave after six months of residence, if they haven’t found a job and cannot prove they have a realistic chance of finding work in their host country.

So remaining in the EU would allow us to send migrants home who could not support themselves. Leaving would grant the UK government control over the immigration policy agenda, meaning it could choose to continue these arrangements, or develop another policy.

“[Staying in the EU gives us the right] to stay out of the Euro”

This is correct. The Treaty of the EU states that the UK is under no obligation to join the Euro, although obviously this would also be the case if we leave the EU.

“[Staying in the EU gives us the right] to prevent Turkey joining the EU”

Accepting new members into the EU requires the agreement of all EU countries. That means it’s correct to say the UK could prevent Turkey from joining the EU, as it has a veto. If we leave the EU, we naturally don’t have that veto.

“[Staying in the EU gives us the right] to stop the creation of a European army”

If the UK stayed in the EU it would be able to veto the creation of an EU “army”.

EU member countries work together on military matters, but the EU doesn't have its own military capabilities currently.

The EU can’t propose laws about security and defence. And it can’t implement common defence policies, like the creation on an EU army, unless all EU members unanimously approve. This effectively gives the UK a veto on any EU defence policies.

UK law also states that no such common EU defence powers can be handed from the UK to the EU without the approval of parliament and a referendum on the decision.

If we leave the EU, naturally we won’t have any direct say over whether the EU enhances its military cooperation or creates an “EU army”. 

“[Staying in the EU gives us the right] to vote on our laws. And a court to make sure that British people and businesses are fairly treated”

We elect the people who pass our laws, and this will be the case whether or not we leave the EU. What varies is who British people elect to pass laws and how they are represented in court. UK law is voted on by MPs and members of devolved administrations like the Scottish parliament. We elect these people directly.

EU law is voted on by Members of the European Parliament (whom we vote for directly) and national government ministers at the EU Council. Although of course the citizens of the other EU countries also vote to elect their respective MEPs and ministers who have an influence on the EU law that the UK must follow. 

Currently, as a member of the EU, people in the UK are bound by EU law and UK law, with EU law taking supremacy in cases where it might conflict with national law.

Leaving the EU will mean that the UK is no longer bound by new EU laws, although we will transfer over most existing EU laws into UK law and this will come into effect on 29 March 2019. We’ve written more about how EU laws work here.

In terms of courts, most legal cases are heard in UK courts, but some cases that relate to EU law can be heard in the Court of Justice of the European Union (which is the highest court on matters of EU law). 

As leaving the EU would mean that the UK is no longer bound by EU law, the few cases that currently end up in European courts would be dealt with in British courts (after the end of the transition period).

One exception is on matters of EU citizens’ rights in the UK. Under the current proposed Withdrawal Agreement, these cases can be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) for a period of eight years after the end of the transition period.

 “[Staying in the EU gives us the right] to vote on how the government spends our money”

Whether we leave or remain in the EU, we will still elect the representatives that decide how public money is spent.

Currently, UK taxpayer money is spent by the UK government, devolved administrations in the UK, and the EU.

At the UK level we elect MPs, members of devolved administrations and councillors.

At EU level, we vote for MEPs to represent us, and a UK government minister also has the power to veto some laws, as part of the EU council.

As a result of Brexit, we will stop paying into the EU budget after 2020, although some UK taxpayer money will be sent to the EU after this date, mainly in order to pay outstanding pension liabilities.

“[Staying in the EU gives us the right] for our business to buy and sell across Europe without customs checks and tariffs”

Being in the EU means being in the single market and customs union. That means businesses and individuals can trade within the EU without any customs checks and tariffs in place.

Following Brexit these aspects of UK-EU trade will be determined by a future trade relationship, which may or may not include tariff-free trade with Europe.

“[Staying in the EU allows us] to have ample supplies of fresh food and medicines”

If we stay in the EU, then there’s no reason to expect our supplies of medicine or food would be affected.

If we leave the EU, especially with no deal, concerns have been raised about the stability of supply, but it’s difficult to be sure how severe any such problems could be.

Regarding medicines, the government has said it would continue to recognise medicines that have already been approved by the EU after no deal so they can still be supplied in the UK.

There are concerns about the risks of short-term disruptions to the supply if there are delays at the border. The government has said it has plans to stockpile six weeks’ worth of medicines (on top of normal stocks) in the event of no deal.  

We’ve written more about what might happen to medicines and drinking water here.

“[Staying in the EU gives us the right] to have 1/3 reduction in the fee we pay for all these things"

We’ve asked the post’s author what this refers to, but haven’t received a reply yet.

We suspect that it’s talking about the fact that the UK gets a rebate on its contributions to the EU budget.

Over the period 2013-2017, without the rebate we would have paid around £92 billion into the EU budget, but the rebate of £23 billion means we got a discount of 24%. On top of this the EU spends some of the budget on public and private sector projects in the UK.

However, the EU has signalled that it proposes to scrap rebates (for all EU countries that receive one) over the next decade, so it’s far from guaranteed that we’d keep our rebate if we remained in the EU.


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