Coronavirus and the Impacts on Brexit
Last Updated – 15:00, 8th September 2020
This article discusses the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the Brexit process.
Negotiations during Coronavirus crisis
Following an initial hiatus whilst the logistical issues of remote negotiation by video conference were dealt with, negotiations between the UK and the EU restarted in late April and have been taking place in week-long rounds, with physical meetings recommencing more recently. Statements of both the UK Government and the European Commission have underlined both parties’ intentions to work hard to deliver a future relationship that would work in the interests of the citizens of the EU and the UK, although as of early September there were still substantial areas of disagreement remaining, with the UK stating that the EU needs to show “more realism”, and both sides underlining their preparedness for a no deal situation. Areas of significant debate include the level playing field concept, fisheries and governance, and the UK has commented more than once on the EU’s failure to treat the UK as a sovereign, independent state. It is apparent that there is much negotiation still to take place. At the end of July a new addendum to the terms of reference was published by the Government and the European Commission setting out the process for negotiating rounds during August and September, followed in early September by the agenda for the 8th round of negotiations, taking place from 8-10 September. Information on the current status of negotiations published by the EU can be found here.
Transition period – possible extension
The UK Government formally confirmed on 12 June that it will not be seeking an extension of the transition period, and so as specified in the revised Withdrawal Agreement, the transition period will end on 31 December 2020. As the Coronavirus crisis has developed there have been calls from MEPs and opposition parties to extend the transition period. There has also been pressure from the logistics industry, with press releases from the FTA, the RHA and the BIFA all stating that an extension to the transition period is necessary. However, any extension would need to have been adopted by the joint committee before 1 July 2020, and so it seems clear that no extension will take place.
Transition period – current UK/EU relationship
During the transition period, the UK is effectively treated as a member state in many respects, under the terms of the withdrawal agreement. The UK Government is still subject to EU rules on state aid. The EC approved two UK state aid schemes on 25 March, which make up the business interruption loan scheme, and approved a third scheme on 6 April which provides help to SMEs and large corporates. For more details on these schemes, see our FAQs on Government-backed Business Support. As regards travel restrictions, the EC has noted that UK nationals are to be treated in the same way as EU citizens until the end of the transition period.
However, the UK is no longer involved in the EU’s decision-making and legislative processes, despite being affected by any new EU laws that might come into force. While most EU law was agreed while the UK had an input, the Coronavirus crisis means that the EU is having to decide on new policies and enforce new rules much faster usual. The House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee (ESC) has highlighted these difficulties in a recent report. This report also seeks clarification from the UK Government on the implications of withdrawing from the EC’s redirected funding for the Coronavirus crisis. The report also raises the UK’s withdrawal from EU’s pharmaceutical legal framework and the European Medicines Agency, and the effects this may have on the availability of new vaccines and treatments.
Negotiating trade deals outside of EU
The discussions on a new free trade agreement with the US were delayed from their original March start, and the UK and US governments started negotiations in early May, with a two week round of negotiations covering nearly thirty different negotiating groups. Further rounds are anticipated to take place approximately every 6 weeks, with the latest taking place in the weeks of 15 and 22 June, and will be carried out remotely until it is safe to travel.
In addition, the UK and Japan started trade talks during June on a post-Brexit trade deal, being held by video link, with an aim of having a deal in place by the end of the year.
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The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.
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