Friday, 8 May 2020

Brexit Briefing April 2020

Author NIAID Licence CC BY 2.0

Jane Lambert

The world has changed since 23 June 2016 and indeed much of that change has occurred since 12 Dec 2019. The United States and the United Kingdom have suffered more deaths from CORVID-19 than any other country and a severe contraction of economic activity. The virus has affected other large countries but not to the same extent.  The other significant event that occurred in April was the announcement that China had overtaken the USA in the number of applications for patents through the Patent Cooperation Treaty for the first time ever (see WIPO PR/2020/848 7 April 2020).  In terms of domestic applications, China is considerably further ahead.  That country filed 1.5 million applications compared to the USA's 597,000 {see World Intellectual Property Indicators 2019 -Patents WIPO 2019).

Despite those changes, British officials are quietly pursuing negotiations that are likely to result in trade barriers with the UK's nearest and largest market from 31 Dec 2020 and an American administration in an election year that is struggling to control the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn.  Such policy would, of course, be justified by the 2016 referendum result and the 2019 general election though it is probably the case that the government won with remainder votes who were more afraid of Corbyn than they were of brexit.

The new relationship negotiations resumed in April as I noted on 18 April 2020 in Barnier and Frost talk at last and two rounds have actually taken place. In a press statement by Michel Barnier following the second round of future relationship negotiations with the UK on 24 April 2020, the EU chief negotiator warned of
"two very real deadlines that we are faced with and which have been set by law:
  • 30 June 2020: Will we decide or not, before that date, and by joint decision with the British, to extend the transition period, according to the possibility that is foreseen in the Withdrawal Agreement?
  • And, 31 December 2020 – the date of the ‘economic Brexit', following the ‘political Brexit' that took place at the beginning of this year: On this date, which will bring important and definite changes in many areas, will the United Kingdom leave the Single Market and Customs Union with or without an agreement with the EU?"
By a circular dated 29 April 2020, the Commission announced that it had reviewed and updated the plans that it had made for a British departure from the EU without a withdrawal agreement and has set them out in a number of sector readiness notices that can be found on its Getting ready for the end of the transition period page.

In his statement, Monsieur Barnier came close to accusing British officials of negotiating in bad faith. In the Political Declaration that accompanied the withdrawal agreement, both sides made commitments for the future framework that British negotiators refused to discuss except in the most general terms.  There is concern that the British government is failing to implement the provisions of the withdrawal agreement that would enable the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to remain open.  In order to monitor such implementation, the Commission has sought permission to open a representative office in Belfast which was refused by the Paymaster General on 27 April 2020 (see the letter from the Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt MP to Helga Schmid and Michel Barnier).  Further, the only British response to the draft treaty that the Commission proposed to the UK on 18 March 2020 has been a number of text proposals which Monsieur Barnier has been asked not to share with the member states or the European Parliament.

Negotiations began with the US Trade Representative on a trade agreement with the USA on 5 May 2020 after a two-month break with platitudinous statements on both sides (see Joint Statement of UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and USTR Robert Lighthizer  5 May 2020 Department for International Trade and Statement of USTR Robert Lighthizer on the Launch of U.S.-UK Trade Negotiations 5 May 2020 Office of the US Trade Representative).   It is worth remembering that any deal with the USA will have to be approved by the US Senate which will have concerns if a largely US brokered peace deal in Northern Ireland breaks down as a result of the failure to honour the commitments on Northern Ireland in the withdrawal agreement.

I shall be updating the EU new partnership negotiations page and the US trade agreement negotiations page.  Ideally, there should be a page on British involvement with the one belt one road initiative and the UK's relationship with China which is already providing much of the investment and technology for the UK's next generation of nuclear power stations, high-speed rail and 5G mobile communications but at the moment that relationship seems to be going nowhere.  Anyone wishing to discuss this article or any of the issues raised in it should call 020 3819 8725while lockdown continues or message me through my contact form.

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