Over five days and 40 video sessions, 10 negotiating teams had to provide urgent “refocusing” before the June 30 deadline for the two sides to formally agree to extend the transition period if the UK requests one.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, will hold a press briefing in Brussels on Friday, but his team learned on Monday that Boris Johnson was not moving on the issue of extra time.
Barnier’s brother David Frost opened the first plenary session, “reiterating that the government does not want to extend the transition period and that work could be done by the end of the year.”
Some observers have said that the British government’s position that an extension is unnecessary is astonishing given the scale of the coronavirus crisis.
Philip Rycroft, former chief official of the Brexit department, now missing, told Prospect magazine: “It just makes sense to ask for an extension of the transition period. “
Sam Lowe, lead researcher at the Center for European Reform think tank, says extension is inevitable, but Johnson has “no incentive” to request one until June, deadline for single UK application United.
“A free trade agreement could still be concluded, but it would be difficult to implement. Even if we come to the end of this pandemic by then, businesses will not be prepared, “said Lowe, who said he was optimistic that a free trade agreement could be reached by the end. of the year, although mediocre. .
This week’s discussions focused only on future relationships. A separate part of the work is underway on the implementation of the withdrawal agreement signed in January.
Here is an overview of the people involved in the discussions and the areas covered.
Composed of Michael Gove, Minister of Cabinet, and Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission, the committee met for the first time on March 30 and will take decisions on recommendations from officials who will employ six specialist committees.
These committees cover the Northern Ireland Protocol; citizens’ rights; British sovereign army bases in Cyprus, the Divorce Bill, Gibraltar and “other separation issues”. Who sits on the committees, how often they will meet, and exactly what they will explore has not yet been released.
Northern Ireland checks
The Ireland-Northern Ireland Specialized Committee (INISC) will meet for the first time on April 30. The Cabinet Office has confirmed that the INISC will “be made up of official representatives from the EU and the UK” and “will meet as regularly as necessary to facilitate engagement between the UK and the EU on the establishment implementation of the protocol ”.
A working group will also be set up to supply the committee. The Cabinet Office says it will act “as a forum for information exchange and mutual consultation” on implementation. So expect organizations and industry experts to be invited to submit to this group.
The other specialized committees have not yet been scheduled.
Jess Sargeant, a researcher at the government’s think tank, said the INISC was likely to make recommendations to the joint committee. An urgent task is to examine which goods will be subject to tariffs when crossing the Irish Sea using data on commercial travel and goods ‘at risk’ of entering the single market by crossing the border with the Republic of Ireland.
Border inspection posts
The location of border inspection posts for checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea has yet to be decided, unsurprisingly since Johnson insisted that there would be no checks. The EU would prefer the posts to be located in places such as the ports of Liverpool and Cairnryan in Scotland.
This is one of the most contentious areas and the EU has said there will be no agreement unless it is agreed in outline by June. The chances of progress in this week’s talks have been hampered by the UK’s failure to publish a legal text detailing how it envisages its new status as an independent coastal state. The EU has published text for all areas, but the United Kingdom has published partial text. “This means that the text the negotiating teams will discuss is the EU text, not the UK text,” said a source.
Gove told parliament last February that the UK needs an army of 50,000 customs officials to deal with cross-border trade from January 2021. It seems unlikely that significant progress will have been made here. .
The immigration bill, which would have closed the borders to low-skilled and low-paid workers from January, has been shelved, chief of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg announced this week. Few believe that the government can move forward with a change in the public’s attitude toward low-wage foreign workers in the areas of social care, health, retail and agriculture.
The Road Haulage Association has requested that the transition period be extended. He says the industry is alive.
“We are totally focused on the coronavirus and our position is that there is a real need to delay the Brexit talks. Our industry is struggling to survive with more than 70% of respondents saying they have to face the wall within 12 weeks, “said Rod McKenzie, policy and public affairs officer.
He said that a survey of 4,500 carriers found that half of the drivers were inactive and 50% of the trucks were parked.