August is the month when many people take their holidays and most political processes drop out of sight; but this is 2018 and Brexit is looming, so it has been a busier month than usual.
The month started with the usual round of stories concentrating on what we guess are the main topics at the moment; the movement for another vote or second referendum, political divisions in both main UK political parties and lots of conflicting stories about whether a Deal or No Deal is a good or bad thing.
We could talk about leadership battles and do some crystal ball gazing but that’s not what Brexit Decoded is about and you can read all about that in many other sources.
That was pretty much the size of things until the last two weeks of August when it all started to heat up. After months of criticism about the government’s seemingly failure to plan for a No Deal Brexit we received 25 notices in one day from the department tasked with planning our departure. That department is called the Department for exiting the EU and often referred to as DExEU in the media.
The person with the job of overseeing this is Dominic Raab and this is probably the best time to introduce the main characters in the ‘Deal or No Deal’ that is unfolding before us. It began as a fairly uneven game of five on the UK side and eight on the EU side but things have changed and for the sake of simplicity let’s just say that the negotiations on the UK side are being conducted by Dominic Raab under Theresa May and on the other side we have the main EU negotiator Michel Barnier and his team.
So, on Thursday 23 August the DExEU issued 25 guidance or advice notices covering specific areas including; finance, farming, medicines, future funding and various other industry specific sectors. We identified six of these notices, which we believed would be of most interest to you and decoded them in individual blogs. These were; studying, finance, the right to work, trading with the EU after Brexit, health services and a general guide to planning for a No Deal.
For our take on the content and substance of these notices you can read all of them or just take your pick and read one covering an area or subject which might affect you. The DExEU has stated that it will be releasing up to 80 of these notices before the end of September and we will treat them in the same way for you as they are released.
One notable absence from the first 25 was any advice on the Irish border and you can also read our take on this issue within the blog.
So, in week three of August, we get the first advice in the event of a No Deal which we took to be ‘keep calm and carry on but rest assured we are thinking about these things and it’s probably time you did too’.
These notices seem to raise more questions than they answer and a general consensus that more negotiations are needed in an attempt to reach a deal.
The negotiations to reach a withdrawal agreement have been arranged to conclude ahead of the European Council meeting starting on 18 October, one of the regular summits for EU leaders scheduled well in advance. At this point it was hoped that a ‘Deal’ would be finalised. During week 4 of August that deadline seemed to be slipping with both sides agreeing that it could take until November for a Deal to be reached. With the deadline slipping and criticism in the press of the lack of progress, the principals announced that they were meeting on Friday 31 August to hold talks.
Ahead of these talks the two negotiating teams spent some of Wednesday and most of Thursday attempting to reach agreements ahead of the Friday summit between Dominic Raab and Michel Barnier. On Wednesday Michel Barnier announced that the EU was planning to offer the UK a ‘unique deal like no other’ and the chance of a Deal being achieved seemed more optimistic than at any time before.
The talks themselves took place with reports on the length varying from a single hour to six hours. The announcements from both sides were positive afterwards with Raab stating he was ‘stubbornly optimistic’ about achieving a deal. Barnier went further stating that 80% was agreed and that the remaining 20% was mostly focused on the minutiae.
So what is left to negotiate and reach agreement on?
The Irish Border is still the sticking point although both sides agreed that progress was being made.
Governance and implementation:
How will the ultimate agreement be enforced and what role will the European Court of Justice have in enforcing the agreement and overseeing citizens’ rights.
What will happen if either side breaks the Deal?
Issues surrounding GDPR, which are the rules about how the data of EU citizens currently stored in the UK can be protected?
How regional products such as French Champagne and Spanish Manchego Cheese will be protected within the UK and presumably the same protections for UK products such as Cheddar Cheese, Scottish Whisky and Bakewell Tarts.
Criminal and judicial matters:
How will the existing systems of co-operation relating to cross-border crime and money laundering be maintained?
The month of August gathered momentum towards the end and we seem to be getting closer to a Deal, albeit that the deadline has been extended. The Irish Border is clearly the main problem to be resolved and it is high time that some detail was shared with the public on proposals.
The time for arguing is over and the people of Ireland deserve their voice.
One story, which is emerging and gathering pace as we publish this blog, is the potential hidden cost to the UK for securing a Deal. There are suggestions that there will be a price attached to any agreement and that the UK will have to continue to pay billions into the EU each year to retain a version of the existing free trade agreement.
This will not be well received by the pro Brexit lobby in the UK.
This story, these negotiations and any possible Deal will have a lot more decoding to be done in the coming weeks.