Brexit 5: The Eleventh Hour

Next steps of farming policy announced

Earlier this week, the Government set out its plans to deliver a transformative farming system which will replace the EU’s controversial Common Agricultural Policy after the Brexit transition period. According to the Government, the system will usher in the most significant change to farming and land management in 50 years.

The Agricultural Transition Plan, titled ‘The Path to Sustainable Farming’, sets out the key changes that will come into effect from 1 January 2021. Among the key changes is the introduction of the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELM). The ELM scheme will replace EU subsidies, which paid farmers based on the amount of land they farm, with grants which reward farmers for sustainable farming. The scheme will issue grants for activities such as soil conservation, flood management and reducing the use of antibiotics.

In a move that has been widely celebrated, this week DEFRA announced that the UK will become the first country in Europe to ban live animal exports. The Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said the ban could come into effect by the end of 2021 and hailed Brexit as the reason for this change. The announcement is a timely win for the Government, which in recent months has come under fire for potentially compromising food standards in future trade deals.

With just weeks until the transition period ends, the announcement also sends a clear message to the EU that the UK is gearing up for life outside of the Union.

Brexit and the Pfizer vaccine

This week, the Health Secretary as well as the Leader of the House of Commons, claimed that Brexit had allowed the UK to approve the new Pfizer coronavirus vaccine more quickly than other European countries. The head of the UK’s medicines regulator was, however, forced to step in to dismiss these claims. Dr June Raine said that the MHRA was able to authorise the supply using provisions under European law, which exist until 1st January. Asked whether he supported his colleagues’ claims, the Prime Minister instead insisted that what mattered was that the UK was the first country in the world to approve the vaccine.

The inaccurate claim that Brexit helped expedite the UK’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine was branded “insulting” and “upsetting” by the French MP Bruno Bonnell.

EU national governments voice concerns over Brexit compromises

The EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, is facing mounting pressure from a number of European leaders who fear that the European Commission is giving too much away in the negotiations. French President Emmanuel Macron and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo lead those criticising the Commission and urging Mr. Barnier to consult member states before agreeing to anything.

Considering France’s proximity to the UK and its shared waters, it is no surprise that President Macron is anxious for a positive agreement on EU fishing rights in UK waters. President Macron is calling for greater quotas for French fisherman fishing in the UK, who are heavily reliant on access to UK waters. Today, EU fishing fleets catch 675,000 tonnes of fish in UK waters – 60% of the total caught in the UK sector. The economic health of France’s deprived coastal communities depend on the fishing industry. Nevertheless, President Macron’s concerns are as much politically motivated as they are economic. With the French presidential election under two years away, a dodgy deal on an issue so important to France could devastate his election chances. Equally, fishing access to the UK’s own waters is a totemic issue amongst some eurosceptic Tory MPs.

So, could it really all come down to fish?

Talks continue into the night

Aware of the looming transition deadline, the pressure to finalise a Brexit deal between the two sides is ever rising. This week, as discussions continue before the transition period ends, a late-night pizza delivery to a SW1 location signaled that a long night lay ahead for both negotiating teams.

The December 31st deadline is fast approaching and after a rocky few weeks, there is real anticipation that a deal could be finalised in the coming days. As ever, the contentious issues remain fisheries, competition rules and the dispute resolution mechanism. Downing Street is worried that any last minute interventions from the EU, such as those from President Macron, could destabilise what many claim to be a productive week of negotiations.

Speaking to Ireland’s Newstalk Radio, the Irish Foreign Minister remained confident of an imminent deal “in the next few days” but added that the road ahead could be “bumpy”. A Friday finale is now looking unlikely, with Sunday or even Monday now optimistically looking like the next realistic day to wrap up negotiations.

And if we get a deal, then what?

If a deal is finalised this week, the process to turn the deal into law should start by the middle of next week, however it must be passed by both Parliament and the EU. In true fashion, if a deal is passed by both parties, it will be just in the nick of time. The European Heads of State will also meet next week, with the European Parliament to then hold a special session on 28th December to approve the deal, just three days before the end of the transition period. In the UK, the Prime Minister may face criticism from ERG hardliners who fear he has compromised too much in the negotiations although it seems unlikely that this will obstruct the deal being passed, as on Thursday, Labour leader Keir Starmer said that he would likely whip the party into voting for a Brexit deal. That is, of course, if a deal can be agreed in the next few days.

We wait with bated breath…

The Whitehouse team are experts in the potential impact of Brexit, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients across the Member States of the European Union and the United Kingdom. More information about our Brexit experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at