Despite the ongoing effects of coronavirus, Brexit talks are pressing ahead, albeit with little progress being made as the UK and EU reach loggerheads. The process of negotiating the UK’s way out of the EU still isn’t over, despite the fact the country left the bloc earlier this year, just as coronavirus was first emerging in Europe.
January 31 marked the beginning of the ‘transition period’ for the UK leaving the EU.
This means the UK is still in the single market, and must still uphold the rights of UK and EU citizens under agreements such as freedom of movement.
The main objective for UK negotiators is to ‘take back control’, and Boris Johnson has refused to make any concessions in agreements and still wants a “great relationship with our friends.”
But talks continue to stall and time is running out for the EU and the UK to negotiate a deal.
If a deal is not secured by December 31 of this year, the UK will exit the single market without a deal.
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UK and EU negotiators have remained in talks throughout the coronavirus crisis, but they are still struggling to agree on key issues, with reports that the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier is growing tired with the UK’s no concession approach.
Somewhat scarred by the 11th hour decisions that characterised the first phase of talks before January 31, an agreement was reached that an optional six month extension could be put in place – but this must be activated by the UK within the next month.
This deadline, looming on June 30, is enshrined in EU law, meaning if the UK doesn’t take the option, it’s do or die until December 31.
However, a new report by the Institute for Government has outlined several ways an extension could be agreed after the deadline if both countries found at a later date that the negotiation period has been too short.
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Change the Withdrawal Agreement date
It might seem overly simplistic – and it probably is. According to the report, the UK Government has the legal authority to change the agreement from its end.
However, it’s not clear the European Union has the same power, not without jumping a few hoops first.
The EU’s power is derived from the treaties and while the agreement can be amended to “correct errors, address omissions or other deficiencies”, it is not clear that this would fall under the scope.
A ruling from the European Court of Justice would be required, making relying on this route unlikely.
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Create a new transition period
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Creating a whole new agreement from scratch and binning the first one is one way interesting way the report suggests extending the transition period.
One disadvantage of this approach would be to force negotiators to pause their talks on the future relationship to draw up this new treaty, simply to extend the time they have for the future relationship talks.
The institute also says there are “significant political and legal risks”.
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Create an implementation phase
The UK and the EU could include an “implementation phase” in the future relationship treaty.
This would only work if a future relationship treaty has been agreed this time round, but it would give time at the end if negotiators reached a decision but cut it pretty fine – something that seems quite likely to happen given the timeframe left.
This scenario isn’t actually that unlikely – in October 2019 an extension was needed despite the deal being agreed. This gave the parliaments time to ratify the treaty and go over some elements.
The institute suggests the implementation phase could be similar to the current one, or cover different things.
Create a no deal implementation phase
If absolutely nothing can be agreed, the least that could be done is to mitigate the effects of no deal.
No deal would see Britain crash out of the single market, with no special allowances to EU trade deals and other things.
The report says that trade talks often fail, and implementing this could help mitigate the effects of that.
“Telling businesses to prepare for the worst just in case will not cut the mustard: if a business implements costly preparations for no agreement, it risks losing out to less conscientious competitors if an agreement is reached at the last minute,” the report explains.
“Allocating a specific period of time during which Government and businesses could focus exclusively on preparing for a no-agreement scenario could reduce the chances of this happening.”
Regardless, if negotiations do break down for one reason or another, its hard to imagine either side embarking on another round of technically complex negotiations regarding the inevitable.