By Jaclyn Raymond
May blog installment
In early May, seeing the easing of the threat of the coronavirus, the trade negotiations once again picked up in some measurable form. At the start of May, the Irish deputy PM spoke out saying that the trade negotiations weren’t making very good progress, but as the month proceeded, more talks showed some that there definitely is progress being made in certain ways, if not highly publicised.
May has shown itself to be a preparatory month for the EU and UK negotiators with the June summit, where it will be decided if the negotiations will be extended past December or not, fast approaching. One major development however has been seeing the tone that the UK-US trade agreement negotiations have taken on parallel to the Brexit negotiations. It has been a surprisingly positive atmosphere with it clear that both delegations want a speedy and comprehensive agreement, almost to the ignorance of the major roadblocks they might face ahead. Some have said that the US are so eager as the US wishes to expand its economic sphere their period of economic hardship, both delegations have denied this however, stating again that it is simply in the spirit of economic cooperation.
From within the government and parliament, Gove has come out and said that during negotiations, there must be ideological flexibility as to ensure that there does not come any point that the negotiations break down, however the government has maintained its position of the goal being a totally independent Britain. The government has also now published their draft legal text for future FTA’s with the EU.
This all shows that progress is being made, but with the government still quiet on its official approach to the extension of the deadline and the coronavirus pandemic still the major issue of the day, the negotiations are taking on an ever more urgent tone. The June summit will as such, determine many things that are unclear.
In the second of our series of blog posts on the Brexit process, Jaclyn Raymond provides an update of proceedings.
April Brexit Proceedings
Going into April, the Brexit proceedings had made very minor progress, with a starting draft agreement having been sent to the EU council for consideration mid-March. Since that point, while attempting to keep talks alive during the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, the negotiations have struggled to make any markable progress.
There are growing calls, corroborated by public polling that the Prime Minister should extend the deadline so as to allow a total focus to be on the pandemic but since the PM has been in hospital and is still partially recovering there has been no word on this. It is undoubtable though that Johnson will have to take a firm and long-term stance on extension of the deadline sometime soon with the public and media growing more and more concerned. This was amplified when Nicola Sturgeon demanded that Johnson extend the deadline by two years.
Most of the focus in April seems to have been on the influence Brexit is having or may have over dealing with coronavirus. There is however, a much bigger elephant in the room that many are neglecting to talk about, in that as time goes by, the transition period ticks downwards ever more. There has been some speculation that the government is deliberately ignoring the Brexit negotiations in a bid to try and inch towards a no deal Brexit with as little resistance as possible, and while this seems underhand, it is simply conjecture. The negotiations make little progress regardless, and there continues to be increasing calls for extension with little government response. What happens next is yet to be seen.
As part of our new series of blog posts on the progress of Brexit, PIR student Jaclyn Raymond writes about the delays to the negotiations caused by CoronaVirus
The current Coronavirus crisis has put Brexit into the background of government action and media interest. At the beginning of March, there had been the beginnings of the negotiations with lines being drawn in the sand as to the exact positioning that the UK would take. The government released an ambitious statement detailing their goals for a future relationship with the EU including a free trade agreement covering essentially all free trade, as well as encouraging a fruitful future partnership in many areas. The British delegation had made it clear that they wanted to be treated as a separate but equal sovereign power. The negotiators had sought to ensure that they would safeguard the government’s position, including the denial of the idea of a customs border in the Irish Sea. While there was talk going into the negotiations of there being little disruption predicted for manufacturers, the negotiators made it clear that the point of ‘independence’ meant taking a fundamentalist stance. This realistically meant that the negotiators understood that in order to act on the wishes of the government, checks and some kind of barrier were going to be inevitable.
As the proceedings continued into mid-March, the problems incurred by the spread of the COVID-19 virus focused news elsewhere, and negotiations also suffered. A statement was put out by the negotiators entailed the response to the virus saying that they were not going to meet in London as they had originally planned. Even with this setback, a draft for a new potential partnership was sent to the European Parliament and Council on the 13th of March. However, upon the classification of the COVID-19 as a pandemic there has been new pressures for the deadline on negotiations to be pushed back due these exceptional circumstances. Whether this will come to pass or not is still to be seen, however Prime Minister Johnson has so far refused this option.
As the end of the month drew near, the Coronavirus pandemic expanded even further, so much that even Prime Minister Johnson contracted the virus. This caused most negotiations to stall, with no real progress being made at all through the month as focus centred on the impact of COVID-19. As such there is now renewed questions as to whether the negotiations will continue as scheduled, whether the UK will simply leave on WTO rules or if negotiations will be reorganised in a new way. Overall however, for a month that was supposed to contain many developments, it has been overwhelmingly static as Brexit has been relegated to a secondary concern.