The world is facing a pandemic with Covid-19 but is the Corona virus an obstacle to the future of Brexit and the talks that are taking place between the UK Government and the EU?
During March both Michel Barnier and David Frost became ill and needed time to recover but the UK Government pushed for the negotiations to continue. Mr. Barnier stated: “The goal is to make significant progress by June.”
The UK and the EU have a completely different approach on how the withdrawal agreement’s protocol on Northern Ireland should be implemented. A trade border in the Irish Sea is being created by the Agreement and a unique legal situation arises. The province will remain part of the UK’s customs territory but subject to EU rules on customs, state aid and VAT. UK’s priority is to ensure minimal disruption to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
It is clear that a large gap remains. Experts say future checks could be significantly reduced if the UK secured a tariff-free, quota-free trade deal as part of its relationship with the EU. The negotiation of simplified customs procedures and a veterinary agreement are other possibilities.
The biggest problem is time pressure. The progress of negotiations should be evaluated by the end of June and as Covid-19 has caused a slight delay there is a possibility of a request for an extension to take place because on the 31st of December 2020 the transition period ends. London as of today remains committed to the initial time schedule set.
Another problem is the way the talks are taking place at the moment. Through teleconferences due to the virus situation. Political analysts and diplomats are worried that sooner or later these teleconferences will reach their limits when real political decision will have to be made.
The International Monetary Fund has urged the transition period to be extended as a precaution. The Scottish Government requested the same with an extension of two years by the end of 2022. The UK Government is highly critical of the EU instance for agreement on ‘their’ key points before progressing in other areas – particularly access to UK waters and fishing rights for the EU – this is a hot topic and currently unresolved which could lead to a no deal scenario.
The UK has yet to formally table its own version of the new arrangements, but it is clear from ministerial statements that the British are seeking an unobtrusive approach and are in no mood for the EU’s traditional 11th hour approach. There are some interesting times ahead.