Brexit: will a deal be struck by June?

May 01, 2020
With over three years of back and forth, extensions and negotiations, the Brexit issue is currently the last thing on our minds. As the world gets to grips with the COVID-19 crisis, the Brexit deadline draws closer and closer with no trade deal in sight.

WORDS BY AKRITI GUPTA

Brexit had been dominating headlines for quite some time, only to be swiftly replaced by reports of the worldwide outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the British government no longer participates in EU decision-making institutions, the country remains bound by its rules and enjoys the benefits of membership during the transition period lasting until 31 December 2020. 

However, given the COVID-19 pandemic, it is increasingly likely the UK government will need to extend this timeline or risk additional economic shocks. With both the UK and EU working hard to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, it is highlighting the post-Brexit regulatory and coordination challenges ahead. With only one round of negotiations having taken place so far, the Brexit process has mostly been parked due to the pandemic outbreak. As reported, the two sides were cordial but faced “very serious divergences,” in the words of EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier. Following Michel Barnier testing positive for the virus, and his negotiation team and UK counterpart, David Frost, under self-isolation, the EU and UK have said there will be three further negotiating rounds by video conference before both sides must take stock of the progress of the future relationship negotiations by mid-June. The three rounds will be on the weeks beginning 20 April, 11 May and 1 June.

EU-UK Joint Committee 

The first meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee, set up to implement the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, was held via video link at the end of March. During the meeting, the UK Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, and European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič largely agreed on the importance for the UK to set out its plans over the coming months in regard to the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. 

The European Commission also said that there is an urgent need for the UK to present a detailed timetable on how it will prepare for customs formalities for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Additionally, both sides have decided to launch the work of the six Specialised Committees – covering issues such as citizens’ rights, other separation provisions, Ireland/Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, sovereign base areas in Cyprus and financial provisions – on the key areas for the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Coronavirus v Brexit

The detailed legal obligations of both parties are clearly set out in the Withdrawal Agreement. With the Joint Committee legally obligated to meet at least once a year, they will now work closely to prepare for its next meeting, currently foreseen for June. If the UK were to adhere to its strict timetable of deciding to leave the EU without their much-coveted deal by June of this year, the current climate, in addition to a post-coronavirus economy, threatens an economic disaster of high multitudes. Brexit is not immune to the coronavirus. However, it is now up to the decision-makers to see if they can vaccinate the economy against it. 

The UK is currently in a transition period with the EU until the end of the year, 31 December 2020. 

Akriti Gupta is a Public Policy Officer in Chartered Accountants Ireland.