Brexit White Paper, Put Simply

By Editor-in-Chief Cameron Broome

What is the Brexit White Paper?

Essentially, the Brexit white paper is a lengthy legal document giving greater clarity on Theresa May’s Brexit plans. Initially, May was reluctant to provide a “running commentary” on Brexit plans, fearing that Britain’s bargaining power in EU negotiations following the triggering of Article 50 might be diminished. May was later forced to produce the 75-page long document due to pressure from the House of Commons. It builds on the 12 principles set out in May’s Brexit speech last month.

Key points from the Brexit White Paper


Britain will leave the single market (read our PPS on the single market here). By freeing itself from the customs union, Britain can begin to negotiate free trade deals with other countries. The document states that high-growth economies such as China, India and Brazil are early targets for free trade deals (note: these countries are no longer “emerging” economies, rather they have “emerged” but are still growing at a high rate). Other targets include the US, New Zealand, Australia and the Gulf States. However, the paper also states that Britain will seek the “most frictional trade possible” in goods and services with the EU.

Specifically, in terms of financial services, the paper states that there is a “legitimate interest in mutual cooperation arrangements that recognise the interconnected of markets”. For example, the paper points out the 75% of the EU’s capital market business is conducted through the UK.

EU nationals

Currently, 2.8 million EU nationals live in the UK. Theresa May has yet to give any certainty as to the continued rights of these citizens. Instead, May wants to secure the reciprocal rights for the 1 million Brits living in the rest of the EU. She has been criticised by both former “Remainers” and “Brexiteers” alike for using EU nationals residing in the UK as political bargaining chips.

However, the paper states that the “Government would have liked to resolve this issue ahead of the formal negotiations. And although many EU Member States favour such an agreement, this has not proven possible”.


In essence, the paper gives little details on what Britain’s specific post-Brexit immigration policy will be. Instead, it states that they “are considering very carefully the options that are open to use to gain control of the numbers of people coming to the UK from the EU”. The paper states that “genuine” students will still be welcomed. In addition, parliament will play an “important role” in shaping the new system. The paper also suggests there will be some transitional arrangements put in place (which could see the temporary continuation of the freedom of movement) in order to give businesses and individuals time to plan for the new immigration arrangements (the specifics of which remain unclear).

Defence and security

Recognising that crime and terror are not self-contained within imaginary political boundaries but are cross-border challenges, the paper indicated Britain will continue to collaborate with the EU in the fighting of terrorism and crime. In addition, the paper suggested that Britain would continue to support the possibility of more sanctions on countries such as Russia if that was deemed to be in the interests of Europe.


In 1923, the Common Travel Area was set up concerning the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The Brexit white paper suggests that the UK will “aim to have as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland”. Note, it says it “aims” to have this and does not make any guarantees.

Avoiding a “cliff edge”

Any proposed plans will seek to give individuals and businesses time to prepare. Following the two-year formal exit process under Article 50, ministers will seek to have a “phrases process of implementation” before the full withdraw of EU regulations. By ruling out a “cliff edge” Brexit, May is trying to avoid financial market instability from the economic uncertainty caused by Brexit.

Further reading on the Brexit White Paper:

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