STATE OF PLAY

The fifth round of formal negotiations concluded on Thursday with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, reporting that there had been no progress on two “essential topics” in trade talks with the UK, and saying that the negotiations could be heading for failure unless the UK shifts position. While he welcomed some progress in some areas, including on the enforcement mechanism, Barnier said the two sides remained far apart on how to ensure a “level playing field” between EU and UK businesses, as well as on fisheries, warning that “the time for answers is quickly running out”.

Showing more optimism, David Frost, Barnier’s counterpart, admitted that PM Boris Johnson’s hope of securing a provisional deal by the end of July had been dashed, but indicated that both sides had shown some signs of flexibility during three days of talks. He also said “Despite all the difficulties, on the basis of the work we have done in July, my assessment is that an agreement can still be reached in September”.

The Chief Negotiators will meet again next week for informal discussions.

In other news –

– The Government has launched a public consultation on its plans to develop a new Border Strategy for 2025. The consultation follows last week’s publication of the UK new Border Operating Model, which sets out the “technical detail” on how the UK’s border with the EU will work immediately after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020 until 2025. The consultation will examine how the border should operate in the long term, after the period covered by the Border Operating Model.

– The Government defeated an attempt by Conservative backbenchers to ensure Parliament has a vote on any post-Brexit trade deal. An amendment to the Trade Bill, which completed its passage through the Commons this week, would have given MPs and peers a say on any new agreement signed by the Government. The Trade Bill has now been sent to the House of Lords for examination.

– EU leaders agreed this week on a EUR 5 billion special instrument – the “Brexit Adjustment Reserve” – to counter unforeseen and adverse consequences in Member States and sectors that are worst affected by Brexit.

– The EU has published over 70 sector-specific notices, which explain in detail what actions must be taken in each sector to be ready for the end of the transition period. Similar guidance’s have been published by the UK.

OTHER KEY DEVELOPMENTS

– The UK Conformity Assessed (UKCA) has warned that the Government has run out of time to introduce a new UK quality assurance scheme to replace the EU’s “CE” product labelling system, essential for legally placing products in EU markets at the end of the Brexit transition period. Japanese company Honda has also called on the Government to “urgently update” its plans for the UK scheme or risk interrupting component supplies to its factory in Swindon.

– The Freight Transport Association has warned that, unless a trade deal is agreed, at the end of the transition period, lorry companies will lose the right to provide road transport services in the EU. Instead, they will automatically enter the European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT) scheme, which distributes a fixed number of permits per country. There were 8,348 UK-registered international road hauliers last year, according to Department for Transport data. However, under the ECMT scheme, the UK would be allocated permits for only 2,088 companies.

– The Government will launch a communications campaign to reach the estimated 1 million UK citizens living in the EU to ensure they know what steps to take if they wish to remain in their host countries after Brexit. It will also urge all EU member states to accelerate the process to enable UK nationals to secure their rights amid concern among campaigners that some countries have not yet even opened schemes for UK citizens.

The new trade deals –

– Unnamed UK Government officials have suggested that the UK and the US are unlikely to reach a trade deal ahead of this autumn’s American presidential election, blaming the Covid- 19 pandemic for slow progress. A third round of talks will begin via online video conference on Monday 27th July.

Many thanks for last weeks Brexit transition round-up compiled by public affairs and communications consultant Nicky Donnelly.