We are less than one month away from the June deadline, and with political capital directed towards the ongoing pandemic, we appear no closer to agreeing a trade agreement with the EU.
The EU request dither and delay…understandably
Boris threatened to abandon trade talks if negotiations have failed to progress by June, a rhetoric that hasn’t been dropped even in light of the coronavirus pandemic. But, the largest group in the European Parliament has urged the UK government to do the “responsible thing” and extend the Brexit transition period, as the coronavirus engulfs the timetable for an EU-UK deal.
The European People’s Party (EPP), which contains the parties of 11 EU leaders, including Angela Merkel and Leo Varadkar, released a statement on Monday 30th March requesting the government to extend the Brexit transition period.
The trade talks – which began in March – have only concluded one round of face-to-face negotiations before the coronavirus placed them in a state of paralysis. During a European Commission briefing, the institution revealed that negotiating via video-conferencing had so far proved impossible.
As such, it appears that the only thing the EU-UK representatives shared during the trade talks was coronavirus: the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said he had “tested positive for COVID-19” since the first round of trade talks, and the U.K.’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost has also been self-isolated after showing “mild symptoms” of COVID-19.
UK goes back on Brexit promises (shock)
The UK is attempting to avoid its obligation to recognise valuable EU regional food trademarks for products like Parma ham and Champagne, an announcement which adds more areas of conflict to already tense trade talks between London and Brussels.
EU and UK officials confirmed that Britain wants to use talks on the future relationship – if they ever happen – to negotiate looser rules on the protection of geographical indicators. The rules want to be different to those already agreed by Boris Johnson in the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement.
That has not been received well as one senior EU official warned the British attempt to put the issue of geographical indicators “back on the table” was effectively dismissing the UK’s commitment to the entire Withdrawal Agreement. Brussels drew immediate red lines, insisting they are not up for renegotiation.
Under the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK agreed to recognise the entire “stock” of geographical indicators currently on the EU’s books. This move comes as the negotiations remain in paralysis, but to see the UK once again go back on promises outlined in the Withdrawal Agreement should no longer come as a surprise.
The Brexit Party splash the cash on final EU elections
Nigel Farage’s party, which topped the polls in the UK’s final elections to the European Parliament – with 31% of the total vote – also spent the most money on campaigning. The Brexit Party managed to outspend the Conservatives and Labour, ironically spending £2.609m in four months getting elected to the institution the party despises the most.
The 73 MEPs elected last year ended up serving for just over eight months. The MEP’s vacated their seats in the European Parliament as swiftly as possible on 31 January 2020, only to hear virtual Big Ben bongs and Nigel Farage lead a rendition of God Save the Queen.
Brexit’s next big choice, do we keep Daylight Saving Time?
The UK entered British Summer Time on Sunday 29th March; we lost an hour sleep but in return for longer daylight hours through the summer – not overly useful in light of the pandemic – but this usual annual event might be the last. The European Parliament last year voted in favour of ending Daylight Saving Time, meaning the block will not change the clocks twice a year starting in 2021. But as the UK left in January, British officials will have to choose whether to maintain Daylight Saving Time. Are they keen enough to break from the EU to start their very own timezone? This will be an exciting one to follow, as we chart our own course on this important decision.
Is the Coronavirus warning us about Brexit?
As the coronavirus runs rampant through Europe and freedom of movement is halted, UK agriculture gets a grim preview of a post-Brexit world.
Despite Britain technically leaving the European Union on January 31 – before the UK coronavirus outbreak – the UK remains bound by EU law until the end of 2020. As such, EU workers remain legally entitled to come and work in the UK as before.
But with flights grounded and many borders closed, workers are physically unable to do so. The implications are profound for the UK’s agricultural sector, which last week issued a concerning warning that crops could go unharvested this year due to a lack of manual labourers.
The UK’s main organisation for farmers, landowners and businesses have said labour shortages caused by coronavirus could be “devastating”. It has called for a “land army” of local labour to assist the sector with the shortfall, which expects to see its supply of workers reduced by 75 per cent. The reduced supply of workers has stagnated due to restrictions on cross-border movement and the lack of flights preventing temporary workers from the EU travelling to the UK. It is estimated that the shortfall ranges from 70,000-90,000.
But in a turn of events, fruit and vegetable pickers – recently labelled as low-skilled and unwanted – are now termed “Key Workers” in the UK. These ‘now’ key workers earn salaries lower than the £25,600 threshold that will be required for migrants wanting to work in the UK under the new, points-based immigration system. Hopefully, this change in status precipitating from the pandemic is made permanent before the new immigration system begins come 1st January 2021.
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 email@example.com