A week on from our last Brexit Update, Nicky Donnelly has offered yet another insight into the ongoing negotiations as Great Britain prepares to leave the EU.

STATE OF PLAY 

Negotiations are expected to continue into next week despite EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier currently self-isolating, after a member of his negotiating team tested positive for Covid-19.

However, EU officials said that “this shouldn’t affect talks too much” as talks during the pandemic have long been a mix of in-person and on-screen negotiations.

Furthermore, they said the technical negotiations have gone as far as they could and that the remaining issues will need to be resolved at political level.

If both sides agree to compromise, details to conclude the deal could reportedly close in a “number of days”. 

This was confirmed in an update on the status of the negotiations in Brussels, where EU ambassadors were told that that the majority of the 11 key negotiation issues now had “joint legal texts with fewer and fewer outstanding points”.

While it was reported the differences on the core issues like level playing field, governance and fisheries were being gradually bridged, European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen said “there’s still a lot of work to do”.

An EU diplomat noted that while there is “growing concern that the negotiation process does not proceed quickly enough to ensure the ratification of a possible agreement until the end-of-the-year deadline”, “the hope is nevertheless that negotiations can be finalised quickly if and once the necessary political decisions are taken in London.” 

Despite the cautious optimism, ambassadors agreed to ramp up contingency planning in parallel to the ongoing EU-UK negotiation process and called on the European Commission to publish contingency proposals “as soon as possible given the late stage of the negotiations and the possibility of accidents in the last six weeks”. 

Meanwhile, the European Parliament has been looking at ways to expedite the ratification process and therehave been discussions about holding an extraordinary sitting of the European Parliament on 28 December. It requires four weeks to ratify the deal, meaning that a breakthrough must be made by early December.

However, amid concerns that the negotiations might continue well into December, the Commission is now reportedly considering emergency procedures to allow the ratification process to be completed in January or February if required. At this stage, it also unclear whether the deal will require ratification from national Parliaments, with France calling for discussion on its legal nature “within days”.

However, even in this case, the deal could still provisionally be brought into force on 1 January, with the national Parliaments ratifying later. 

OTHER KEY DEVELOPMENTS 
  • The Department for Transport has published the new Haulier Handbook and opened 45 physical advice sites to prepare hauliers for the end of the transition period. 
  • Giving evidence to the Commons Select Brexit Committee, Northern Ireland businesses have called for an extension of the transition period in the region, warning they “simply will not be ready” for the mandatory border checks on 1 January. The call comes after Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots reportedthat new post-Brexit checks at Northern Ireland’s ports will not be ready until the middle of next year. 
  • Giving evidence to the Lords Select EU Goods Sub-Committee, Tim Morris, head of the UK Major Ports Group, said that the £200m made available by the Government to set up the required post-Brexit infrastructures is not nearly sufficient. 
  • UK logistics companies are reportedly trying to mitigate to the shortage of trained customs staff by employing overseas workers in countries such as Romania and India.
  • Accountancy firm KPMG has warned that failure to strike a post-Brexit trade deal would cut the UK’s economic growth rate from 10.1% to 4.4%, delaying a full recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.