STATE OF PLAY

The latest round of talks between the EU and UK on their post-Brexit relationship concluded yet again without “significant areas of progress”, with the two sides remaining far apart on core topics including future alignment of business regulations and access to British fishing waters.

Speaking at the conclusion of the 4-day session, EU Brexit Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier said “I don’t think we can go on like this forever”, adding “In all areas the UK continues to backtrack on the commitments it has undertaken in the political declaration… we cannot. We will not accept this backtracking on the political declaration.” Making similar comments, UK Chief Negotiator David Frost said “Progress remains limited, but our talks have been positive in tone. Negotiations will continue and we remain committed to a successful outcome… If we are to make progress, it is clear that we must intensify and accelerate our work. We are discussing with the Commission how this can best be done.”

PM Boris Johnson will now hold talks with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council president Charles Michel to take stock of progress (or lack of) made so far and discuss ways forward. The meeting is expected to take place around the time of an EU video summit on 19 June.

OTHER KEY DEVELOPMENTS

  • Environment Minister Rebecca Pow has said that UK will activate its independent REACH regime from 1 January 2021 when the Brexit transition period ends. In a letter to parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), Pow reiterated that the UK was not be seeking associate membership of ECHA or participation in REACH, explaining, “while the transition to UK REACH will take some adjustment, we believe that the benefits of having control of our own laws outweigh the costs”.
  • The Governor of the Bank of England (BoE), Andrew Bailey, has told banks that they should increase their preparations for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit following the end of the transition period.
  • British officials have questioned the UK’s EUR300m contribution to the EUR3 billion “Emergency Support Instrument,” set up to help member countries respond to the pandemic, arguing that, under the terms of last year’s Withdrawal Agreement, the UK should not be liable to pay for major changes to the EU budget introduced after Brexit took place. However, a European Commission official said the UK remains “fully liable to contribute to — and fully eligible to benefit from — the Emergency Support Instrument”.
  • In a new report, the Commons Select Public Accounts Committee has warned that the Cabinet Office will not have the capability to successfully deliver campaign messages on preparations for the end of the Brexit transition period at the same time as delivering the major public health campaign on Covid-19, with it “likely that the Covid-19 campaign will crowd out the Brexit transition campaign.” Similarly, the Committee expressed concern that businesses and the public will not have the capacity to act on both sets of messages.
  • The Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont has voted in favour of a non-binding motion calling on the UK Government to request an extension to the Brexit transition period in the wake of the “extreme challenges” posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, business companies in Northern Ireland have called for a six month “adjustment period” to Brexit checks in the Irish Sea and accused the UK Government of refusing to engage with them.
  • In an article for Politico, Confederation of British Industry’s Director General Carolyn Fairbairn has warned that businesses cannot prepare for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit in the middle of a pandemic.

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.