As 2021 edges ever closer, Nicky Donnelly has offered yet another insight into the latest developments in the Brexit negotiations.

STATE OF PLAY 

Talks on a future trade deal appear to have entered their final phase, with a spokesperson reporting that EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier had cancelled his planned briefing to EU ambassadors on Friday “due to ongoing intensive negotiations”. 

However, there still are hurdles in the way of an agreement, with the UK-side reporting that the Brexit trade talks are at a ‘very difficult stage’. On Thursday, Downing Street claimed that the EU side had created fresh obstacles following pressure from French President Emmanuel Macron.

UK and EU sources both suggest that the real sticking point remains governance, with EU pushing for a tough independent regulator to adjudicate disputes. Issues also remain on fishing rights and the level playing field. 

Meanwhile, European Council President Charles Michel has warned British negotiators that they risked ‘no-deal’ if they forced Barnier into unpalatable compromises over fishing and subsidy law, adding that it was “essential” that EU Member States could back it. France’s European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune went further, threatening to veto a deal “that isn’t good”. 

The warning came amid concerns among some Member States that the European Commission is poised to give away too much ground in the endgame of negotiations, with French President Emmanuel Macron apparently the most unhappy. In a meeting earlier in the week, Barnier was clearly told by EU ambassadors not to concede too much to the UK in efforts to get a Brexit deal over the line. 

Barring a last-minute breakdown in talks, some media outlets now suggest that a deal could be concluded as early as Sunday. This will then allow EU leaders to consider it at their next meeting on 10-11 December. 

OTHER KEY DEVELOPMENTS 

  • The Commons Select Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has said that the Government is still “taking limited responsibility” for Brexit readiness with 4 weeks to go until the end of the transition period, and warned of a “risk of serious disruption and delay” at Channel crossings. In a new report, the PAC said that there are still “significant risks” to the country being ready on 31 December 2020, including that border systems remain in development and plans for managing disruption or prioritisation of key goods are unclear. 
  • The IHS Markit/Cips purchasing managers’ index – a business survey which measures sales, employment, inventories and prices – has risen to 55.6, its highest reading since December 2017. The results indicate that factories have been stockpiling raw materials and European customers have brought forward their orders to prepare for the end of the transition period. 
  • Chair of the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, Darren Jones, has written to Business Secretary Alok Sharma to express “deep regret” at the Secretary of State’s refusal to attend a BEIS Committee evidence hearing on 8 December to examine business preparedness for Brexit. 
  • A new poll from trade association the Food and Drink Federation has found that 20% of food and drink businesses are planning to “pause GB-NI deliveries to ensure we can be legally compliant with NI rules”. A further 11.6% said they were going to pause supplies “while we assess if it remains a viable market” with 4.7% saying they would reduce the volume of goods sold from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland’s meat industry has written to Cabinet Minister Michael Gove warning that they will not be ready by 1 January and requesting a 12-month grace period. 

  • Adam Payne on Twitter: “Lots happening in the NI/Brexit world: – Meat industry writes to Gove warning they won’t be ready by Jan 1, need a 12-month grace period (letter pictured) – NI business expecting a big HMG announcement early next wk. PM’s aid says there’ll be a protocol update “in due course” .

  • Labour leader Keir Starmer is facing opposition within his Party over his plans to whip the party’s MPs to back a deal if it comes to a vote in the House of Commons.