STATE OF PLAY  

The round of Brexit negotiations between the EU and UK scheduled to commence on 18 March was cancelled, with EU sources confirming that hopes of conducting a full negotiation round via videolink had been crushed by the widespread lockdowns introduced on the back of the Covid-19 outbreak. The two sides have been unable to agree on how to proceed. The UK has said that both sides are considering “alternative ways to continue discussions”, while the European commission’s chief spokesman, Eric Mamer, suggested that the main focus of the negotiations in the immediate future will be “textual analysis” of the legal documents exchanged on Wednesday. 

However, online talks pose problems for both EU and UK negotiators, due to logistical issues – with most “non-critical” staff in Brussels being confined to home – and a shift in priorities, with civil servants being re-deployed to work on the coronavirus outbreak. To make matters worse, EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier has tested positive for COVID-19, while David Frost, the UK’s Chief Negotiator, is self-isolating after showing symptoms of the virus. As a result, the further round due to start on 6 April 2020, might also be postponed. 

PM Boris Johnson has so far insisted he has no intention to change the legislation requiring the UK to leave the Transition Period on 31 December. This position was reinforced by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who said that the Government is still committed to striking a post-Brexit free trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020. Notwithstanding these statements, Government sources have indicated to the Telegraph that the UK is preparing the ground with the EU to seek a mutually agreed extension before the June deadline to do so expires. 

OTHER KEY DEVELOPMENTS 

 ▪ This week, the European Commission released a draft legal agreement for the future EU-UK partnership. The draft text covers all areas of the negotiations, including trade and economic cooperation, law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, participation in European Union programmes and other thematic areas of cooperation.

 ▪ European Commission’s DG GROW has published a guidance to stakeholders on the impact of Brexit in the field of industrial products. The notice advises manufacturers to: ensure certification by an EU notified body where such certification is required under the EU product legislation; ensure compliance with establishment requirements for ‘responsible persons’ for regulatory compliance and authorised representatives, and adapt product labelling, where necessary. The notice does not cover EU rules in the field of agro-food, medicinal products, motor vehicles, aviation safety and most chemicals.

Many thanks to our client Nicky Donnelly for compiling this update.