Brexit 5: The last chance saloon

It is exactly two weeks away from Christmas, and all Boris Johnson wants is a shiny post-Brexit free trade agreement from the EU. Unfortunately, the UK is on the EU’s naughty list, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Mr Frost and Mr Barnier have not had a second spare to put up their Christmas trees, as negotiations go down to the wire.

Join Boris, Mr Frost and Mr Barnier for a drink in the last chance saloon and hear about this week’s top 5 Brexit developments.

Dinner dates: a new deadline awaits

In light of deadlocks during formal negotiations, Prime Minister Boris Johnson met European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for dinner in an attempt to break the impasse. Arriving for dinner, Johnson was scolded by Von der Leyen for not keeping his distance as she welcomed him to the European Commission. The pair then worked during the dinner of scallops and turbot – hopefully not fished in UK waters – from a document detailing between 20 and 30 issues on which the negotiations had faltered. Mrs von der Leyen said the discussions had been “lively and interesting”, and the two sides fully “understand each other’s positions” but they remain “far apart”.

Since the meeting, Johnson has given the strongest indication yet that no-deal is the most probable outcome from talks with the EU after he said, “There’s a strong possibility that we will have a solution much more like Australian relationship with the EU than a Canadian relationship with the EU,”. The dinner date decided that Sunday is the new deadline and both sides seem willing to go past that day, but only if progress has been made. It is still too close to call, but the signs indicate no-deal Brexit is, at the very least, a very strong possibility. The looming deadline may make both sides more willing to compromise but given how many deadlines have already passed, this is unlikely to be a game-changing factor.

We’ve got 27 trade deals but the EU ain’t one

The UK and Singapore have signed a free trade agreement, delivering a much-needed morale boost for Boris Johnson’s government as it remains locked in negotiations with the EU. Liz Truss, the UK’s International Trade Secretary, signed the agreement with her Singapore counterpart Chan Chun Sing in the city-state on Thursday. The new deal covers more than £17bn of trade in goods and services and mostly does a copy and paste job of the existing EU-Singapore FTA. Under the current arrangement, 84 per cent of tariffs that apply to Singapore exports to the UK are exempted, with the balance set to be written off by November 2024. Singapore would maintain the largely tariff-free access to Singapore where more than 99 per cent of imports are exempt from duties.

Panic at the ports

Deal or no-deal, Parliament’s Welsh Affairs Committee has expressed concern that there was a “significant risk” neither Holyhead nor Fishguard would have facilities ready for new customs checks needed from January 1st. Border checks and processes at Welsh ports would be needed regardless of a deal and are due to be fully implemented from July 1st, 2021. In the committee’s report they warn of the implications for Holyhead Port of “a combination of new, and untested, IT systems and new checks and processes”. The committee called on the UK government to publish contingency plans for how checks will be carried out on goods arriving at Holyhead in the event of inland facilities not being operational by July.

The Internal Conflict Market Bill

The UK Internal Market Bill, introduced to the House of Commons on the 9 September, has been no stranger to opposition when being scrutinised in the House of Lords. Peers already voted to remove clause 42 which would have allowed the UK Government to break international law, and to remove clause 44 – regarding ministers’ powers to modify export declarations for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. On December 2nd, the House of Lords completed the third reading of the Bill where members passed it without making any further changes.

However, the government suffered fresh defeats over the Bill as peers again pushed for the Internal Market Bill to give Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland a more significant say over cross-border trading rules. Some members argued the Bill would undermine the devolution settlement and centralise power in London and so amendments were essential to protect the UK union. But MPs voted down these changes. The Bill will now continue with parliamentary ping pong between the houses as it returns to the Lords for the third time next Monday.

Big bills for traveller’s healthcare after Brexit… don’t slip!

British tourists will have to pay higher insurance premiums to fill the £156 million void left in the cost of medical treatment in mainland Europe according to research from Which? Insurance companies are almost certain to increase premiums for holidays in EU member states when Brits’ access to the European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) is abolished at the end of the transition period on December 31st. The research found that the cost of treating medical emergencies could run into thousands of pounds. According to the research, a 65-year-old who had a heart attack and required surgery, plus ten days in hospital in France could have to pay £14,000 in the future.

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