Brexit 5: New Labour surfaces as Covid-19 continues to cause damage

Starmer becomes Labour leader and appoints his Shadow Cabinet

Sir Keir Starmer won a comprehensive and somewhat unsurprising victory last Saturday in Labour’s leadership election. In his pre-recorded video broadcast following the result, he immediately changed the tone in the party’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, stating that he wanted to work closely with the Government. Whilst suggestions of Starmer joining a national Government are far-fetched, his tone suggests that he is ready to engage more constructively than some in Downing Street felt his predecessor would. Starmer has now shown that he intends to move Labour away from the Jeremy Corbyn era in his shadow cabinet appointments. The appointment of Ed Miliband as Shadow Business Secretary is symbolic not only of Starmer’s intention to move back towards a pre-Corbyn approach to strategy, but also of his own Miliband-esque policy preferences. Starmer also appointed then junior Treasury Minister Anneliese Dodds, which has been warmly welcomed by all wings of the party, and has given his fellow leadership contender Lisa Nandy the role of Foreign Secretary. How these appointments materialise in policy terms remains to be seen.


EU Medical Devices Regulation implementation to be postponed

On 3 April, the European Commission adopted a proposal to postpone by one year the date of application of the Medical Devices Regulation to allow Member States, health institutions and economic operators to prioritise the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. This decision took into account the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic and the need for an increased availability of vitally important medical devices across the EU and will come as a welcome relief to many medical device manufacturers who are working around the clock to they can be of support to the NHS by meeting the extra demand. The European Commission has adopted the proposal internally and it’s now been sent to European Parliament and Council for approval. The Parliament and Council will be voting on this via a fast tracked co-decision procedure in the coming days.


Show me the money: Bank of England funding boost announced

Early today, the Treasury announced that it is to extend its overdraft facility at the Bank of England to deal with the mounting pressure that is being placed on the Government and the economy as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. Consumer confidence has been struck, spending has fallen, businesses have had to close, and as a result tax revenues are drying up. The shrinking economy, met by fears that the lock down may be extended beyond April, has forced the Treasury to call on its overdraft facility to supplement the money it raises from the sale of government bonds. The Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak sees this as a short-term cash flow solution, but it’s not clear what the long-term damage or impact on the economy could be at this stage.


Jumped or pushed? EU’s top scientist leaves post

The President of the European Research Council, the de facto EU’s top scientist, resigned very publicly after only 3 months in the job. Professor Mauro Ferrari claimed that he was “extremely disappointed by the European response to Covid-19” in a statement to the Financial Times on Tuesday. However, shortly after this statement was made, ERC colleagues published their own statement suggesting that he was asked to resign after they unanimously voted against him in a no-confidence vote on the 27th of March.

The European Research Council is a body which funds research into a variety of different areas but has a substantial €2bn budget which will be much needed to fund medical research into Covid-19. The 19 members of the governing Scientific Council expressed their dissatisfaction with Professor Ferrari after accusing him of “displaying a lack of engagement with the ERC, failing to participate in many important meetings” and not defending “the ERC’s programme and mission”. They went on to specifically accuse him of “using his position to promote his own ideas” and of being “economical with the truth” in his resignation statement.


Post-Brexit exit talks resume

Two rounds of Brexit talks have had to be postponed after the chief negotiators of both sides got infected with Coronavirus, but the UK are keen to get going again as soon as possible as the post-exit actual-exit day looms ever closer. The UK’s self-imposed deadline for exiting the EU – 30 June – is now closer than the UK’s 9 million-strong furloughed workforce expected return-to-work date. Understandably, the UK side is keen to get negotiations started again, and has been pushing for remote negotiations to happen. The EU side has reluctantly agreed and progress is slowly being made on the simplest of tasks: agreeing a timetable. The tedium of it drags on.

Even if and when negotiators get passed this phase, doubts have been raised as to whether the UK can even agree to anything. With Brexit catapulted down the national list of priorities it’s no small matter that the UK Prime Minister is incapacitated by coronavirus and the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost will now be reporting to acting-PM and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. The known unknown is when Boris will be back, and the national papers’ front pages have been making a splash this week on what exactly Raab can and can’t do. Can he sign an agreement if one is reached by the June deadline and Boris is still out of action? Whatever the answer it’ll be another twist for the history books.

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