Brexit 5: Tensions and Extensions

More extensions

The UK has declared that it will not extend the Brexit transition period, Downing Street has commenting that an extension would “prolong the delay and uncertainty” around Brexit. Amidst rumours that the EU will be requesting an extension from the UK as it struggles to deal with the most serious global crises since the Second World War – where Europe has formed an epicentre of the pandemic – the UK government will not accept any delay to the Brexit transition period beyond this year. There had been a widespread acceptance at senior levels of government that a Brexit extension could be inevitable and, even now, EU diplomats have said that the bloc had still not ruled out the idea that Britain would change course as the July deadline for any extension request gets nearer

More tensions

There are plenty, of course, who feel Britain should be asking for an extension. Kristalina Georgieva, head of the International Monetary Fund, threw her support behind the idea: “It is tough as it is. Let’s not make it any tougher”. According to a new opinion poll commissioned by Best for Britain and Hope Not Hate, over two-thirds of people in the UK want the government to request an extension to the Brexit transition period in order to focus on the coronavirus outbreak. Elsewhere, European Movement, an independent all-party pressure group in the United Kingdom which campaigns for a close relationship with European Union, has urged Labour to work with them to help secure Brexit extension. The chair of European Movement has called on Labour’s Lisa Nandy to work with them to pressure the government into negotiating a two-year Brexit transition extension, highlighting a clause within the Withdrawal Agreement to push Boris Johnson to extend trade talks with the EU.

EU workers

As well as the approximate 8,500 non-British NHS staff, the UK is said to be extending its arms to another large group of workers from Europe, who are being taken on as seasonal workers to pick crops.  Little more than two months after officially departing from the European Union, which outlined promises of tougher immigration from Boris Johnson’s government, a plane carrying Romanian agricultural workers landed at Stansted airport on Thursday. Around 70,000 seasonal workers are needed to pick crops every year, of which 90% come from abroad, according to the British Growers’ Association. But the question remains as to who will pick the crops after Britain’s exit from the EU. Home Secretary Priti Patel said in February that employers in the UK could replace EU workers, citing that there are eight million out-of-work Britons. But, during the Covid-19 pandemic at least, it seems that the UK may have to continue to rely on workers from the EU.

Still not settled

With Brexit business pressing on as usual, it has been announced that the Home Office has so far received 3.4m applications from people seeking to stay in the UK after Brexit under the EU settled status scheme. This puts the government close to its overall goal for the scheme, with estimates of the number of citizens eligible to remain in the country falling between 3.4 million and 3.8 million. The data puts Polish citizens at the top, with 665,000 applicants, followed by Romanians, Italians and Portuguese. Critics have concerns that some of the more complex cases were now taking up to six months to resolve, creating anxiety for many families whose lives are being put on hold, as well as fearing for EU citizens in children’s homes, care homes or those who are victims of domestic abuse, who may not be aware of the application process.

Labour meltdown

With Keir Starmer at the helm to unify the party, the Labour Party is already facing internal tensions. Labour’s Iain McNicol has stepped down from the party’s frontbench in the House of Lords while an investigation is carried out into claims former senior officials sought to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An 860-page report – which was leaked to Sky News – includes extracts of private WhatsApp conversations between former senior Labour staff in which they are scathing about leftwing MPs, advisers and Corbyn. The report’s release may act like a catalyst to reignite factional tensions within the party just as Keir attempts to create unity. The report was an investigation which was completed in the last month of Mr Corbyn’s leadership, claiming to have found “no evidence” of antisemitism complaints being treated differently to other forms of complaint.

UK Parliament has released a series of Brexit research documents, each providing an interesting overview of a different angle of Brexit. The first papers discuss the future of the UK-EU relationship and the impact of Coronavirus on the Brexit transition period. Click here for more information. 

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