With Coronavirus dominating the news agenda for yet another week, here are five things you might have missed this week on Brexit.
Back to business
When the EU and the UK trade negotiators met on a rainy-day in March, the impact of Coronavirus was largely limited to extra bottles of hand sanitiser on desks in the conference centre. Two months later, talks between the UK and the EU have now resumed, with around 200 officials logging on to Zoom (or maybe another less controversial platform) to discuss EU-UK trade. Both sides are looking to decide by June whether the current deadline for negotiating an agreement should be extended beyond the end of December. Britain’s Negotiator-in-Chief David Frost has made it clear that the UK Government does not want to extend the transition period and that the job could be done by the end of the year.
No exit from Brexit?
In a press conference today following the latest round of negotiations, Mr Frost has said that “very little progress” has been made after the latest round of trade talks. The EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, suggested the UK’s own demands were “not realistic”, and warned of a looming stalemate, after the UK objected to the EU’s desire to “bind” the UK to its laws and seek unfair access to fishing waters. Barnier said that no progress has been made on the most difficult issues. Both sides are accusing each other of being unrealistic, with both the UK and the EU saying that the other side needs to change their approach and strategy if they want a deal.
EU lays down the law
On one of the more contentious issues, free movement, the European Commission has launched legal action against Britain for a “failure to comply” with EU rules. The UK has four months to respond to the claim from the top Brussels body, which cites a string of “shortcomings” in the way Britain has handled the issue of citizens’ rights during the post-Brexit transition period. The move has done little reduce the increasingly bitter tensions between the two sides
Back on the issue of borders
The government has had to admit to Northern Ireland that there will be post-Brexit checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea. Declan Kearney, a junior minister in the executive office at Stormont, told a committee hearing in Belfast on Wednesday that the Cabinet Office says there will be border control posts in Belfast, Warrenpoint and Larne. Months ago, Boris Johnson was insisting his Brexit deal meant no checks, telling businesses that if they were ever asked to fill in extra paperwork, they should “telephone the prime minister and I will direct them to throw that form in the bin.”
Kier me out
Over on Labour land, hundreds of party activists, including several former Labour MEPs, have called on the new party leader Keir Starmer to push for an extension to the Brexit in an open letter that warns that failure to extend the phase would “cost lives”. Asked about the extension issue by an LBC caller on Monday, Starmer refused to call for a delay, though he said it was unlikely that a deal could be struck in time.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org