Brexit 5: When the B word is replaced by the C word

For the first time in weeks, the Big “B” word is (temporarily) no longer the most spoken word in EU-UK politics.

“I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced today, 27th March, that he has tested positive for coronavirus after developing mild symptoms over the past few days. While announcing his intention to self-isolate, he also claimed to “continue to lead the government’s response via video-conference” to fight the spread of this virus. Earlier this week, it was announced that if Johnson was not able to carry on with his duties, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, as the first secretary of state, was the designated person to stand in.

Virtual EU Summit gone wrong

Meanwhile, on the other side of the channel, EU leaders failed to agree on a common economic response to the current coronavirus pandemic during another round of virtual talks that took place on 26th March. Italy, Spain and France, alongside 6 other countries, had put forward a proposal for the EU to deploy “innovative financial instruments truly adapted to a war”. These measures include a common debt instrument, named coronabonds, issued by a European institution “to raise funds on the market on the same basis and to the benefit of all member states”. But the so-called frugal countries, including Germany, Netherlands, Finland and Austria seemed reluctant to link their financial recovery to the coronabonds, as it clashes with their vision of monetary union. EU leaders gave themselves another two weeks to come up with new financial solutions to tackle this crisis. And the lack of a unified response on this crisis triggered, once again, questions on the role of the EU in situations like these, as well as the outrage of the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

“The deep freeze”

Negotiations between the EU and the UK on the future relationship had to come to a halt or have rather been abandoned because of the new unwanted guest, COVID-19. Negotiations via videoconferencing had so far failed to take place, leaving the two sides struggling to maintain a dialogue. The situation was further complicated due to the delay from the UK side to table a legal text for both sides to work on. While the current situation seems to bring back an old dilemma – new Brexit extension, anyone? – Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has told MPs the Brexit transition period will not be extended due to the virus. It remains to be seen if the UK will keep its word on this one.

“Brexit over breathing”

This week, the government has been accused of missing the deadline to join an EU scheme to get extra ventilators to fight the coronavirus. On Monday 23rd March, ministers were claiming they had ‘chosen other routes’ over the joint EU procurement initiatives but have since claimed that they missed the relevant emails. This twisted tale was exacerbated by a Downing Street statement claiming that the UK would not be joining the scheme because “we are no longer members of the EU”. The EU have stated the UK can participate in the procurement project, but instead the government is now facing backlash from opposition MPs.

Coronavirus doesn’t stop the European Parliament

On 26th March, the European Parliament held its first-ever remote vote, following the suspension of sessions at the Strasburg headquarters due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Only a handful of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) gathered in the Brussels plenary chamber with the rest of more than 700 MEPs scattered under lockdown across Europe. Emergency coronavirus measures, including proposals to put forward immediate financial help to countries in need, sectoral help to industries in danger of collapse, and logistical and material help to get necessary medical and other equipment were passed by an overwhelming majority. “Democracy cannot be stopped by this virus,” said David Sassoli, the Italian president of the European Parliament.

That’s all for this week. And don’t forget: Stay home, safe and sound!

The Whitehouse team are experts in the potential impact of Brexit, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the member states of the European Union. More information about our Brexit experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at