STATE OF PLAY

The EU and the UK are set to resume talks next week, the final round scheduled before a “high-level conference” in June to assess progress before the end-of-year deadline.

However, as admitted by UK Chief Negotiator David Frost this week, both sides remained far apart on issues including fisheries and Brussels’ demands for a “level playing field” on state aid, tax, environmental and labour laws. On Wednesday, Frost, said that agreement on a post-Brexit fishing regime — viewed as crucial to unlocking a trade deal — was unlikely to be secured by the target date of 30 June. Frost also confirmed that PM Boris Johnson, will lead the next round of talks in June, saying that “the expectation on both sides is that these are done at leader level”.

Referring to the offer by EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier to extend the transition period by up to two years, Frost said that he was working under the “firm policy of the Government” that the transition period would not extend beyond 31 December. He added, “We have always put a lot of emphasis on economic and political freedom at the end of this year and on avoiding ongoing significant payments into the EU budget … And, of course, those things are accomplished by ending the transition period at the end of the year.”

Cabinet Minister Michael Gove suggested that the Covid-19 crisis might make the UK less dependent on pan-European supply chains, noting the phenomenon of “reshoring” — moving overseas business operations back to the country where they originated — to make domestic supplies more resilient in future.

Amidst the lack of progress, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is expected to present a memo at a Cabinet meeting today (29 May) which maps out how the Government should deal with the continuing uncertainty surrounding the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU. According to RTE, the memo states that the Government does not believe PM Boris Johnson will seek to extend the Brexit transition period, and therefore Ireland should prepare for either a limited trade deal, or a no-deal scenario, by the end of the year. Coveney will also seek approval to draft a new Omnibus Bill which will cover the needs of eight government departments if talks collapse.

OTHER KEY DEVELOPMENTS

• The UK Government has been criticised over delays in granting full diplomatic status to the EU’s representation in London, amidst ongoing foreign policy negotiations. The talks were set to be concluded last year; however, the UK Government had delayed an agreement by citing its lack of parliamentary majority to pass relevant legislation. Talks have remained stalled since the majority was won in December and need to be settled by the end of the transition period.

• In a letter to the Parliamentary Committee responsible for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, Director-General of the British International Freight Association (BIFA) Robert Keen have warned that the country is falling short of its target to train 50,000 new customs agents that will be needed after Brexit. Keen added that BIFA had managed to put just 1,298 people through its online customs declaration training in 2019. A further 244 online courses were completed by February this year, but in March and April there were only 96 enrolments.

• In a new report, Think Tank the Institute for Government (IfG) has concluded that the new ‘Irish Sea border’ is unlikely to be operational by 1 January 2021. While the report welcomed the publication of the UK government’s approach to implementing the new checks, it says that the move has come very late, given the amount of preparation still to be done. The report is based on interviews with civil servants, business groups and parliamentary staff in Belfast and London.

Many thanks to consultant Nicky Donnelly, a valued client and former public affairs and communications manager, with nineteen years experience in-house and via consultancy, in the UK, Greece, Ireland and Brussels.