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When is the Brexit deal deadline and what if there’s not a deal?


Dealing with both Brexit and coronavirus is a massive undertaking (Picture: PA)

The final Brexit negotiations have coincided with the onset and fallout of the coronavirus pandemic – further complicating an already unique situation.

Meanwhile, fears of a second wave of coronavirus persist and uncertainty is widespread as the deadline to broker a Brexit deal grows ever closer.

With talks between UK and the EU still ongoing, here’s what you need to know about when the deadline to secure a Brexit deal is and what could happen if a deal isn’t brokered in time.

When is the Brexit deal deadline?

Britain officially left the European Union on January 31, 2020.

This date also signalled the start of a ‘transition period’ which is intended to allow the UK and the EU a chance to adjust to this new situation and reach a deal.

This transition period is set to end on December 31, and no extension will be given due to the fact that the deadline to request one has passed.

The PM previously said that he did not want negotiations to stretch on past September, but a new deal deadline for the end of October has since been set.

For the time being, as the transition period continues, the UK and the EU are still trading under the same rules as before.

If a deal between the EU and the UK is not brokered before the transition period ends in December, then the UK will drop out of both the customs union and the single market.

A senior source previously told the Telegraph: ‘The government has been making it clear for a while that it is prepared for a no deal.

‘Britain isn’t going to budge on fundamentals like fishing rights, so it’s all in the hands of the EU.’

Transport minister Grant Shapps said in July that the Government would like a deal but was prepared to accept a no-deal situation.

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According to leaked emergency plans, the Government is preparing for economic chaos, power outages and public unrest if a second wave of coronavirus occurs in tandem with a no-deal Brexit.

A classified PowerPoint made by the Cabinet Office’s EU Transition Task Force warns of price hikes, power outages, water rationing and animal disease ripping through the countryside in the event of a potential medicine shortage.

On top of that, the document seen by The Sun warned ministers of food and fuel shortages around Christmastime if lorries get stuck at Dover, while 1,500 soldiers are already on standby ready to help police deal with potential unrest.

Under the Government’s plans for an ‘unruly’ EU departure, planners suspect France will enforce ‘mandatory controls on UK goods from day one’, which could see the flow of deliveries between Dover and Calais drop by 45% over three months, meaning longer queues and a shortage of the 30% of food imported from the bloc, along with medicines, fuel and chemicals used to purify drinking water.

The worst-case scenario could see water rationing implemented and power outages in parts of the nation.

MORE: ‘An imperial history that no longer exists’: Nobel Prize-winning geneticist on Brexit

MORE: Co-op Bank to axe 350 jobs and close 18 branches across country

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‘The ball is in the UK’s court,’ EU’s #Brexit negotiator says



Britain must send “clear signals” that it wants to seal a deal with the European Union on their relationship after Brexit, the bloc’s chief negotiator said ahead of more talks with London, adding a deal was still possible before the end of the year, write Gabriela Baczynska and Jan Strupczewski.

Michel Barnier (pictured) said Britain had so far not engaged with tentative openings floated by the EU side on state aid and fisheries in the previous negotiating rounds, which have mostly been held on video calls due to coronavirus safety restrictions.

“The ball is in the UK’s court,” Barnier told an online seminar on Wednesday. “I believe that the deal is still possible.”

He said he was “disappointed” with Britain’s refusal to negotiate on foreign policy and defence but that he was open to finding a “margin of flexibility” on thus-far conflicting EU and UK positions on fishing and the state aid fair play guarantees.

“As well as with fisheries and governance, we are ready to work on landing zones, respecting the mandate of the EU,” he said when asked how far the bloc could go towards Britain on the so-called level playing field provisions of fair competition.

They are among the chief obstacles to agreeing a new relationship between the world’s largest trading bloc and the world’s fifth-largest economy. Britain left the EU last January and its standstill transition period ends at the end of 2020.

Barnier said “the moment of truth” would come in October when the negotiating teams must finalize a draft deal if it is to be ratified by all the 27 EU member states in time for 2021.

Should talks fail, Barnier said the UK would be more severely affected than the EU if trade quotas and tariffs kick in, meaning that the bloc would not seal a deal at any cost.

“The level playing field is not for sale. It is a core part of the our trade model and we refuse to compromise to benefit the British economy,” he said.

Barnier added that, while Britain refused to sign up to the level playing field commitments in exchange for access to the single market, it was keen to retain very close ties on financial services and the electricity market.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants a narrower trade deal with the EU, but the bloc is pushing for an alliance that would cover transport, fisheries, security and other areas.

Barnier named nuclear co-operation and internal security as areas where progress had been made but said agreeing a role for the bloc’s top court and sealing Britain’s commitments to the European Convention of Human Rights were still missing.

He pressed Britain to advance preparations for the sensitive Irish frontier as agreed under the EU-UK divorce deal last year.

London and the bloc have agreed to intensify negotiations, with contacts planned every week until the end of July and resuming on 17 August after a summer break.



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PMQs: Boris Johnson faces Jeremy Corbyn ahead of 2020 budget – live news | Politics


Cabinet received an update from the health secretary and the prime minister on the coronavirus outbreak. The PM wished Nadine Dorries a speedy recovery, noting that she was following official advice to self-isolate.

The chancellor set out the measures being taken to manage the impact of coronavirus, laying out details of his economic action plan that will be announced at budget.

He outlined how this plan – combined with the measures announced by the governor of the Bank of England this morning – will make the UK one of the best placed economies in the world to manage the potential impact of the virus. The chancellor added the budget will ensure businesses, the public and those in public services working on the front line against the virus get the support they need.

He said despite the impacts of the outbreak being uncertain, we have the economic tools to overcome the disruption caused by the virus and move the country forwards.

The chancellor also said that despite coronavirus being “front and centre in our minds”, the budget will implement the manifesto on which the government had been elected. He said it was vital that people know this is a budget that delivers on the promises made to the British people – investing in public services and cutting taxes for millions of hardworking people – and that there could be no delay in laying the foundations for a decade of growth where opportunity was spread equally across the UK.

The PM said that this budget starts to tackle head on the challenges facing our economy and country – addressing productivity and regional imbalances – and showing that the government is responding to the public’s desire for change. It will set the path for further action through the year.



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Can the Commonwealth Fill the Gap?


I recently attended a conference at Clare College, Cambridge, organised by The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, considering the role of the Commonwealth in 2019 – its challenges and opportunities. The Commonwealth still struggles to an extent to articulate its role and significance in international relations. One session, which included myself as a presenter, had the title “A Less Valuable Connection? The Commonwealth in the post-Brexit era”. The session had the objective of considering whether the Commonwealth as an institution, and via its member states, can fill the gap (or at least partially fill the gap), which will be created by Brexit (in whatever form that takes). My focus was primarily on the Caribbean – both sovereign and non-sovereign countries – to assess briefly the direct and indirect impacts of Brexit; before going onto consider how the Commonwealth can perhaps help mitigate the consequences we are likely to see.

I would like to use the rest of this blog to provide an overview of my presentation and what role, if any, the Commonwealth can play going forward. Let us start with the impacts, and likely impacts, of Brexit on the Caribbean. The most significant consequences will be seen for the Overseas Territories of the UK – such as the British Virgin Islands (BVI) – who will likely lose free access to the EU single market; tens of millions of euros in EU bilateral and regional aid; free movement across the EU or at least the restriction of that benefit; and the shutting down of important avenues of dialogue with the European Commission. So far the UK government has provided very little clarity about what comes next. A commitment has been made to make good any shortfall in EU funding up to the end of 2020, but nothing more than that. As a consequence, there are concerns that trade will be hit and funding will be less and possibly based on a competitive bidding process; at present EU aid is allocated through negotiation and dialogue.

Brexit has also implications for the independent Anglophone Caribbean – in two key respects. First, there is little detail about what a future trading relationship might look like between the UK and the Caribbean, once the UK extracts itself from the Cotonou Agreement and the associated Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that links Caribbean countries with the EU. In the short-term there will likely be uncertainty and disruption; then perhaps adoption of an EPA – equivalent deal in relation to tariffs, standards and regulations. Beyond that, who knows? But could the Caribbean get a better deal from the UK than they presently have with the EU? If Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s aim of a UK military base in somewhere like Montserrat or Guyana comes to pass, then perhaps the region can ask for concessions from the UK. Second, there are the continuing relations between the Caribbean and the EU (without the UK). The renegotiation of the Cotonou Agreement has just begun, but there are challenges for the region – now fewer natural allies in the EU; less money as the UK contributed 15 percent to the key European Development Fund; and suggestions that the Anglo-Caribbean could be linked more formally to Cuba or with Latin America more generally. Thus their long-held particularism is potentially under threat.

So what role post-Brexit for the Commonwealth? Let’s begin first with Commonwealth states, and especially those within the Caribbean. There are some interesting developments here, which suggest that the Anglophone, Francophone, Hispanic and Dutch states and territories are working more closely together. For example, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), made up primarily of Anglophone states, is considering associate membership for the Dutch and French territories. The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), a small sub-grouping of Anglophone countries, made Martinique (a French territory) an associate member in 2015. Today, relations are being strengthened more generally between the OECS, the French territories and France in areas such as illegal immigration and people smuggling, narcotics and interdiction, and relaxing the rules for the movement of people. Further, CARIFORUM (CARICOM & the Dominican Republic) has recently accepted the BVI as an associate member. So across the Caribbean, Commonwealth member states are linking up with overseas territories, providing a deeper level of cooperation across the region, whilst also trying to develop innovative ways of engaging with the EU and its member states.

Finally what of the Commonwealth as an international organisation? At the moment the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons is undertaking an inquiry into the UK Overseas Territories. I looked through the large number of oral and written pieces of evidence that have been given to see how often the Commonwealth is mentioned. It is only a handful. At present it is clear that the Commonwealth, which has a membership of sovereign states only, is not seen as a key interlocutor for the overseas territories. However, there is a desire to change this. But how? There are certainly informal ways that the Commonwealth has and can further develop that role, via for example the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and using its good offices, in tandem with member states, to assist with constitutional reform – a big issue for the overseas territories at the moment. Could for example, New Zealand with its self-governing states of the Cook Islands and Niue show the way for greater local autonomy in the UK territories?

But perhaps more importantly is whether a more formal relationship can be established between the UK overseas territories and the Commonwealth. At the moment there is no such relationship, but this has been discussed for many years. In 2012, for example, the Foreign Affairs Committee undertook an inquiry into “The Role and Future of the Commonwealth”. Some who gave evidence suggested that the Commonwealth should be more accommodating towards the territories, while others said that would breach the core requirement of membership – sovereignty, and that member states would be concerned about the broader and more informal role of the UK government via the territories in Commonwealth affairs.

But I think the Caribbean is showing the way and appreciating the benefits of deeper formal cooperation around climate change and sustainable management of the natural environment, education, health, and tourism, and not being so concerned about the issue of sovereignty (although it does rear its head from time to time). If it is thought that associate membership is a step too far for the Commonwealth, then perhaps the organisation should look at how the EU manages its overseas countries and territories. They are associated with, but not associate members of, the EU – through something called the Overseas Association Decision. There are discreet arrangements and mechanisms for the territories, but where appropriate they can link in with common EU rules and practices. So the Commonwealth should consider this option to bring together and more closely align the territories of the UK, New Zealand and Australia with itself. Brexit will cause a rupture, but the Commonwealth has a role to play, and with some imagination and boldness can enhance its role further in helping to support the UK overseas territories and the Anglophone Caribbean in the more difficult years to come.






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#Brexit – UK open to looser ‘Australia-style’ trade deal with EU: source


“There are only two likely outcomes in negotiation – a free trade deal like Canada or a looser arrangement like Australia – and we are happy to pursue both,” the source said.

Johnson is due to give a major speech on trade on Monday, following Britain’s departure from the EU on Friday after nearly 50 years of membership.

Previously Johnson has said his main goal is to reach a Canada-style trade deal with the EU before an 11-month transition period expires at the end of the year, after which British firms would face tariffs to sell goods to the EU.

But Johnson has also said Britain will not commit to continue following EU rules after the transition period, and Saturday’s remarks suggest he is growing less willing to make the trade-offs that many businesses want to smooth a deal.

Canada does not follow EU rules, but some EU governments are reluctant to give Britain similar leeway to diverge on labour and environmental standards, given the much greater trade volumes involved.

In some areas, such as the minimum wage, maternity leave and the elimination of single-use plastics, British standards significantly exceed EU minimums.





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#Conservative win marks bad day for people of Britain, says #GUE/NGL


A statement by GUE/NGL Co-President Martin Schirdewan on the Conservative Party’s victory in the British general election: “Today is a sad day for people living in Britain.

“It is bitterly disappointing that the message of hope has not carried in the face of a dirty and dishonest campaign by the Conservatives.

“Voters who had voted for change, for an end to austerity, for social and tax justice, will now have to endure a government bent on social inequality, deregulation, discrimination and xenophobia.

“It is also now clear that Britain will be leaving the EU at the end of January. As the Left in the European Parliament, we will continue to hold the British government to their commitments under The Good Friday Agreement,” he added.

“Furthermore, we will protect the interests of people across the EU in the negotiations on the future relationship. We will also seek to safeguard the interests of the people in Britain, and will work with the broader labour movement and progressive forces in Britain to this end,” said Schirdewan.

Also commenting on the vote’s impact on Brexit, Martina Anderson (Sinn Féin, Ireland) said: “The people in the North of Ireland want to remain in the EU. The result of this election shows that the only way that this can happen is through Irish unity – a referendum on which is guaranteed under The Good Friday Agreement.”

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Brexit Endgame: The 2019 UK Election


After nearly four years of wailing and gnashing of teeth, Britain has made up its mind. We’re leaving the EU. At 22.00 on Wednesday 12th December 2019, the BBC/Sky/ITV exit poll opened the final chapter in Britain’s Brexit saga. A crushing majority for Boris Johnson’s Conservative and Unionist Party has redrawn the political map. Constituencies which have been Labour for decades have turned Conservative. The Brexit Party failed to gain a single seat but upset the voting balance. In my home city of Sunderland, had the Brexit Party not stood then a constituency which has been Labour since the First World War would have turned Tory. The Liberal Democrats not only failed to rally the remains of Remain, they actually lost a seat – awkwardly, the seat of their leader Jo Swinson. Following John Bercow to the House of Commons exit are high-profile Remainers Anna Soubry, Chuka Umunna, and Dennis Skinner – who lost his Labour constituency of 49 years to a Tory. Despite climate concerns being a big campaign issue the Greens have failed to achieve anything resembling a breakthrough. Meanwhile in Scotland, a huge surge for the SNP means that 2020 will be dominated by an existential struggle not over the future of Britain in the European Union, but the future of the 350-year old British union itself. British politics used to be boring. Not any more.

The immediate question is, “why?” There isn’t a single answer, and at the headquarters of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and even the Conservatives, heated debates on this question are now taking place. But one answer is that this wasn’t so much a vote of confidence in Boris Johnson, it was a vote of no confidence against Jeremy Corbyn.

The signs have long been there. In 2015 Corbyn faced a vote of no confidence by his own party, and lost. His response was to do nothing. In 2017 Corbyn entered a general election, and lost to the robotic Theresa May. His response was to do nothing. In 2019 Corbyn faced a national vote in the European elections, and lost (even losing his own constituency’s seat in the European Parliament, and on his birthday as well). He responded by doing nothing. Two by-elections showed a collapse of support for the Labour Party, and his response was to do nothing. Now, Jeremy Corbyn has led the Labour Party to its worst defeat since 1935. His response, for now, is to do nothing. Not even resign. This, coupled with Brexit, explains last night’s election result.

Much has been said about the December 2019 election being a Brexit election. And undeniably, Brexit was a major factor. But despite a great deal of discussion and tentative polls about Remainers now having a bigger majority than Leavers (and the former head of YouGov’s disturbing rhetoric in January 2019 about “Crossover Day”, whereupon enough Leave voters had died that a second referendum should be held to return a Remain result), there was not a surge in support for Remain options. The answer to this is Brexhaustion and the clarity (or lack thereof) of party leaders’ positions on the biggest peacetime political issue the British have faced since the stirrings of revolution in 1832.

Under Boris Johnson, the Conservatives advocated an “Oven-Ready Brexit”; not so much a gourmet a la carte Brexit option but a lukewarm, reheated version of what Theresa May had offered four times before. This was not a Remain option, but neither was it a crash-out Hard Brexit option. Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats evolved from calling for a second referendum to simply offering to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit. Nigel Farage’s position of immediately leaving the EU under WTO rules was, at best, vaguely phrased. Jeremy Corbyn’s position has long confused people, until entering the election campaign with a promise of negotiating a magical, perfect deal with an irritated and impatient European Union in record time, holding a Leave/Remain second referendum, but not actually taking a side himself and leaving open the bizarre possibility of him negotiating a deal and then campaigning against his own deal. Anna Soubry’s Independent Group for Change, which was stillborn to begin with, has become as politically relevant as UKIP or the novelty candidates Lord Buckethead, Count Binface, or Mr Fish Finger. Nigel Farage, now turning into the British equivalent of one of the USA’s “perennial candidates” who won’t go away, became an irrelevance as Boris took the limelight as the lead figure for Leave, gifting the Brexit Party a net total of zero seats in Parliament despite their success in the European Parliament earlier this year.

Forced to choose between the Conservative, LibDem, Brexit Party, and Labour options (the SNP’s proposal being irrelevant for most British voters incapable of voting SNP), Johnson’s seems to have been the least unpleasant option on the menu. Swinson’s proposal to ignore more than half of the electorate and cancel the whole process has failed spectacularly, reflecting widespread concern in Britain over the last few months that this Liberal Democrat proposal was neither liberal, nor democratic. The Lib Dems failed to rally the remains of Remain, possibly because the British people are simply exhausted by Brexit and want it to end – one way or the other. And Corbyn’s plan to be an “honest broker” favouring neither Remain nor Leave has backfired worse than anyone anticipated.

The nation has been glued to opinion polls throughout the campaign, anxiously and excitedly watching as the Lib Dem and Brexit Party vote share collapsed, while the Conservatives and Labour raced upwards. But hopes or fears of Corbyn achieving the same as in 2017 – of eating into the Conservative majority just enough to cause a hung parliament – failed to materialise. 2019 is not 2017. The Conservatives are no longer led by a reluctant Remainer and mediocre politician, but by an admittedly charismatic leader and enthusiastic Leaver. The Brexit Party became irrelevant once their far bigger rival came under Leave leadership. The Lib Dems’ policy was clearly unpopular with many Remainers uncomfortable at the idea of just cancelling the biggest democratic decision in British history, regardless of their own views. But while the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, and Brexit Party all clearly stated their Brexit positions and evolved them, Labour did not. The Brexit option offered by Jeremy Corbyn remained more or less the same as his position during the 2016 EU Membership Referendum campaign itself – vague and unclear to everyone.

Labour’s mistake was to frame the December 2019 election around domestic issues. Twelve years after the Global Financial Crisis and ten years after the start of state austerity, Britain is in a shockingly poor condition. Unemployment, growing child poverty, the spread of zero-hours contracts, public services from hospitals to bus routes to police stations being financially eviscerated, intense housing pressure, skyrocketing levels of personal debt – all of these are real, and urgent, and Labour was right to draw attention to them. But Labour was wrong to believe that these were more important to the British people than Brexit.

For the last three (now, nearly four) years, Brexit has colonised British consciousness to the point of complete saturation. Since the beginning of David Cameron’s referendum campaign in 2016, “Brexit” has been a word which the British people have been unable to avoid on a daily basis. Love them or loathe them, Swinson, Farage, Johnson, and Sturgeon at least had a clear position on an issue which has not simply dominated British politics, but has been the entirety of British politics, since 2016. Corbyn’s attempt to focus on domestic issues while treating Brexit as a footnote, was misguided. He wasn’t helped by the poisonous atmosphere of British politics and the polarisation of the British population into warring camps who see the other as not merely different, but evil. He wasn’t helped by his unclear promises on a second Scottish independence referendum, nor by his commitment to scrapping Britain’s nuclear deterrent, nor by his past associations with groups whose commitment to peace and cooperation is, to say the least, highly questionable. He wasn’t helped by a manifesto which promised too much and which was offered by a man whose complete inability to deal with the foul anti-Semitism scandal in Labour gave a widespread impression that if Corbyn can’t manage his own party, he can’t manage an entire country. And he certainly wasn’t helped by a broad perception that the Labour Party (even before he took control) has come to represent the London middle class, rather than the British working class. But as 2017 demonstrated, Corbyn at least had the ability to muddle through these issues, and in the 2019 campaign his past associations with terrorist groups, or his position on Trident nuclear submarines, was barely mentioned compared to 2017. What felled him in December 2019 was a public lack of trust in him and his Brexit position, and a public desperation for Brexit to end, one way or the other.

Britain is now approaching the Brexit endgame. Corbyn will linger on for a while longer, until he steps down in favour of another radical socialist who will lead a remnant of the Labour Party in opposition against a huge Conservative government more preoccupied with the SNP than the Labour MPs sitting across from them. The leaderless Liberal Democrats will wander in the wilderness until reforming as a party dedicated to rejoining the European Union. Nigel Farage will follow Tony Blair into the lucrative job of an after-dinner speaker. In the meantime, Boris Johnson will deliver Brexit. But potentially, a Brexit which is not as harsh as many Remainers feared.

With such a huge majority, and with his rivals and opponents trounced, Boris is not in the same position as Theresa May – trapped by hardline Eurosceptics in the ERG and held to ransom by Arlene Foster’s DUP. 2020 will be dominated by a race against the clock to negotiate a trade deal with Brussels, and the looming war of words between a significantly strengthened case for Scottish independence versus a significantly strengthened case for One Nation Conservatism. But Boris can now comfortably ignore demands for a Hard Brexit and deliver a softer version which will disappoint everyone. But perhaps everyone being disappointed is preferable to half the country being furious. In his speech on the morning of Friday 13th December, Boris acknowledged that much of his vote, like the 2016 Brexit vote, came from the vast and mysterious land beyond London, called “Britain”, whose people are tired of being ignored, tired of being left behind, and eager for remedies to a broken economy and a broken political system. Brexit is coming, and nothing can stop it now. But maybe, just maybe, a majority government aware of the need to placate four angry nations, and aware of the need to strike a good deal with the EU to prevent the further polarisation of the country after January 31st 2020, can do what the British do best, and half-heartedly muddle through.





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#Brexit – ‘We are ready to start the next phase, to defend and promote Europe’s interests’ #EUCO


 

The decisive victory by the British Conservatives in yesterday’s general election was widely and enthusiastically welcomed by European leaders attending today’s (13 December) European Council.

Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said that they welcomed the certainty that the election provided and said that it had been difficult when things had been agreed in Brussels, then rejected by the House of Commons. Bettel added that it is also time for Boris to deliver.

The President of the European Council Charles Michel said that the EU is ready to start the next phase: “We are ready also to defend and to promote the European interest the level-playing field is a very important goal for us.”

The President of the European Commission underlined that the timeframe to reach an agreement in the second phase was going to be very challenging, she said that the EU will be ready to get the most out of the short period available. Von der Leyen was keen emphasise that while the UK would become a third country, she hoped that the UK would enjoy an unprecedented partnership with the EU. She also said that she hoped for a deal that was: “no tariffs, no quotas, no dumping.” The reference to ‘dumping’ refers to the guaranteeing of minimum standards in several fields including state aid, environmental and consumer standards, social rights and other fields. She also added that we should “care” for the 3.5 million European citizens living in the UK.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar congratulates Prime Minister Johnson on and “an enormous victory for him […] and for his party.” Varadkar also welcomed the clear majority the PM enjoys and hopes that it will help in swiftly ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement. Varadkar reminded us that the agreement would guarantee no hard border between North and South, the protection of the common travel area, and the protection of British and Irish citizen’s rights.

Varadkar said it was also important to work with Prime Minister Johnson on getting the Northern Ireland executive and assembly up and running again and that this will have to be a key priority for the next couple of weeks.

All leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron were optimistic about an ambitious trade deal, but all made it clear that the deal would be conditional. However, it is already clear that many countries will have very specific red lines. On her way into the European Council, Danish Prime Minister said that she would insist on access to British waters for fishing.

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‘The risk of #Brexit happening without a ratified deal still exists’ Phil Hogan 


European Commissioner for Trade, Phil Hogan

Speaking at his first event in Ireland as the European Commissioner for Trade (6 December), Phil Hogan addressed what he described as the ‘seemingly endless’ question of Brexit, as well as other pressing trade issues.  

Hogan is hoping that next week’s UK general election will provide clarity and unblock paralysis. He told Irish business leaders that ‘we are not out of the woods yet’ and that the risk of a ‘no deal’ Brexit still exist. He advised the audience of Irish businesses to continue with their work on preparedness given the lack of certainty. The Commissioner appeared to unwittingly acknowledge that a new government, of any hue, will not deliver clarity on what the UK’s situation will be at the end of 2021. 

EU still in the dark about what the UK wants 

Hogan accused the British media of quoting him out of context when he said that he thought that a deal was achievable before the end of 2020. He said the truth was that there was no accurate way to predict how long it would take to negotiate a deal with the UK as there was no precedent. He said that the UK needs to focus on content, the ‘nuts and bolts’ not timing. 

Hogan said he was still in the dark about what type of Free Trade Agreement the UK ultimately want. He said that the UK must outline preferences, define its offensive and defensive interests for each stage of the negotiations, consider the necessary trade-offs and compromises. He urged UK negotiators to involve also stakeholders in defining each stage of negotiations and to have a frank discussion about pros and cons. He said that there was little point negotiating a deal without knowing whether it will gain domestic approval. 

Hogan said the new agreement will secure that there was no hard border on the island of Ireland, but did not address the checks and controls that would apply across the Irish Sea. Today, the Labour Party revealed the contacts of a report on future arrangements written by Her Majesty’s Treasury. Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Brexit Keir Starmer accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of lying about his deal when he has made repeated claims that it would mean no customs checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.  

Hogan told his audience that he warmly welcomed the deal’s commitment to maintaining EU state aid and VAT rules in Northern Ireland, enforceable in the European Court of Justice.  

Making a point that has been made by the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier, he made it clear that given the EU’s geographical proximity and economic interdependence the EU would expect solid guarantees in relation to state aid, labour, environmental protection and tax arrangements. He said that the EU has made it abundantly clear that an ‘ambitious’ deal will be contingent on these guarantees.  

It is the UK’s desire to diverge from these EU level-playing-field standards that will be highly problematic. During the campaign Johnson has promised that he will introduce new state aid rules, that will allow the government to intervene more in the economy.  

Hogan lamented that many in the UK had not yet ‘woken up’ to the fact that anything other than EU membership would be greatly inferior to the status quo. 

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An ‘Expert’ Perspective on Brexit… Means Brexit


I have a confession to make: in the more than two years that we are now running this blog, Russell and I have actually never met in person! Russell has links with the Netherlands; and, even worse, I was in London twice during the last 5 months alone. But the closest that we came to meeting was during a recent episode of TRT World’s ‘Roundtable’ on Brexit, in which we both appeared – but in my case only via Skype. While Russell and I clearly need to work on our relationship, both of us appearing in the same programme also made me think about the role of experts in contemporary society. According to the Oxford online dictionary an expert is “A person who is very knowledgeable about or skilful in a particular area.” Experts have gained an important role in society. They, for instance, are a key source of information for EU institutions and other administrative and political bodies. And although Michael Gove (in)famously claimed that people “have had enough of experts”, those same experts are continuously asked to comment on contemporary developments – both Russell and I have regularly been asked to comment on Brexit in media at local, regional, national and international level.

Discussing the same topic during the same television programme creates an acute sense of awareness of your role as an expert. People expect us to say and write knowledgeable stuff, but maybe when it comes to Brexit we are also slowly running out of ammunition. Brexit is, of course, an unprecedented development. States and territories have left the EU and its predecessors before, or have left member-states and thus became non-members by default (Algeria became independent from France in 1962; Greenland, in 1985, and Saint Barthélemy, in 2012, withdrew to become so-called overseas countries and territories of the EU). And, let’s not forget, other countries decided to refrain from membership or withdrew their applications, such as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Yet, his is the first time ever that a prominent member state is leaving the EU. Perhaps Brexit is not that much of a surprise given that Britain has always been an ‘awkward partner’, but it is difficult to predict what Brexit really means. Brexit means Brexit, right?

But what will Brexit actually look like and what will be its consequences? Even we ‘experts’ don’t know anymore. Consider the many options that are now on the table, some which many people had not expected at all. There’s the EU-UK deal with the (in)famous ‘backstop’, which currently doesn’t receive enough support from either parliament nor the people on the street. Theresa May’s Plan B seems to be Plan A turned on its back, with the EU not willing to budge. And then there’s the no-deal Brexit scenario, which all but a few hard Brexiteers – those are among the Brexiteers with a “special place in hell” – seem to want to avoid. Even a no-Brexit scenario, although not very likely, is not completely of the table, certainly since calls for a second referendum or a general election are still out there.

And then there’s the post-Brexit world. Even in a scenario where the EU and the UK agree to a deal after all, this is only the first step in setting up their future relationship. What will that relationship look like? And will the EU27 remain as unified as they currently are when having to negotiate a trade deal with the UK? We are charting new territory here. Experts answering these questions should perhaps say that we do not always know either. Mind you, I am not bored of Brexit and can surely speculate about it based on what I do know. But we should also not be afraid to admit that we don’t know everything.





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