What does leaving the EU mean for transport?

Published: 11th Jul 2016

This briefing is largely based on the briefing by the House of Commons Library ‘EU referendum: impact of an EU exit in key UK policy areas’. The opinions and judgements it contains are theirs. We expect to review and add to these articles periodically as events develop.

In general the EU is involved in transport which has an international element. This includes aviation and maritime issues, type approval of road vehicles, licensing, and transport networks.

EU action on transport began in the 1980s and a ‘common transport market’ has largely been achieved, apart from rail transport. This has involved opening transport markets to competition and making rules so that companies can compete fairly. This has led to falling prices and rising passenger numbers across the EU. But there are concerns about how to square this with minimising environmental and health-related costs.

Recent work by the European Commission has aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It put forward 10 objectives to help achieve this, such as shifting 30% of road freight onto railways or water-based transport.

There are other international bodies that have a significant impact on UK transport policy. These are the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

IMO and ICAO are the international arenas where global safety and security rules in those sectors are established. The treaties signed here usually form the foundation of both EU and UK law.

UNECE is particularly influential when it comes to road transport as its vehicle regulations form the basis of EU and UK law on vehicle design and construction. When the UK leaves the EU it will still be affected by these UN organisations and their rules.

The transport ‘balance of competences’

The House of Commons Library says that common rules in aviation and shipping are generally more appropriate than dozens of differing national rules as these are international industries.

Nevertheless, the EU’s increasing involvement in these and other areas has led to concerns that the ‘balance of competences’ between the EU and member countries has tilted too far in the EU’s favour.

In its February 2014 report on this issue, the UK government found that people and organisations interested in transport policy supported EU-level action where that could open world markets. But there was also frustration, particularly in maritime transport where it was felt that regulation at a United Nations level would be preferable..

The review also reported a feeling that in some cases EU action failed to take account of the differences between member countries, particularly those on the edge of the EU like the UK

The review looked at future options and found that those responding broadly wanted the EU to focus on implementing and reinforcing the existing laws on the single market.

Once the UK leaves the EU, as a member of the UN and its agencies, it is unlikely that UK law on aviation and shipping would change very much. The House of Commons Library says that the UK is also likely to apply the vehicle rules set down by the UN Economic Commission for Europe.

It’s also possible that the UK and the EU will negotiate to keep common rules on driver and vehicle licensing so that people can still move easily across the continent. The UK might also negotiate an agreement with the EU in the same way that other countries such as Russia and the US have, on air routes, safety and security.

There would likely be some areas, such as general aviation and motorcycling, where the UK would loosen the rules formerly set at EU level.

All of this will depend on the new government and the results of negotiations with the EU in the next few years.

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