Professor Simon Usherwood on what leaving the European Aviation Safety Agency might mean for Britain’s approach to the UK-EU Brexit talks.

First published in March 2020.

UK to withdraw from EU aviation safety regulator, Shapps says. / The Guardian

Let’s talk briefly about what this might mean for the UK’s approach to the Future Partnership talks.

For those that don’t know, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) runs the processes relating to aviation safety and certification for over 30 European states (EU27 plus EFTA, basically).


By withdrawing, the UK will have to repatriate all that activity to the local bodies, which will have to rectify with counterparts elsewhere (including EASA) that they are doing any acceptable job, largely by doing the same work to the same standards.

(This is why the EU has lots of these bodies: it seems much more efficient to share the load with others, plus you get to carry more weight in international discussions on such things)

So why withdraw?

It’s a load more work being out. Being in would be very bounded and you could make the argument that critical safety systems should be handled differently. But that doesn’t seem to be the point.

Instead, the approach appears to be that the UK should absolutely not be part of anything ‘European’ unless there is an absolutely compelling reason to be.

I can think of reasons why you would take this line.

Firstly, there is the ‘wedge’ argument: Join in this and others might press you to join other seemingly innocuous bodies, and before you know it...

Secondly, there is the presentational argument: Anything that looks extraneous in the final deal might make backbenchers unhappy, or supporters in the public unhappy. “Are you saying us Brits can’t be trusted to keep planes safe?”, etc.

Thirdly, there is the UK powerhouse argument: Bringing expertise back (and there are a lot of Brits in the EASA) will play groundwork for a big tech-based economic advance.

Make of those what you will, but it is clear that all of them place economic rationality behind political principle and expediency.

This is just a small example but it might be setting the tone for the next months.

For me, all this tells me that we need to be cautious about how much weight to place on UK politicians approaching these talks with a subtext of minimising disruption (which has hitherto been a major element).

Chocks away!🔷

[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 14 March 2020, with the author’s consent, with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Pixels.)