Brexit Brief Newsletter
The November issue of the Brexit Brief is lighter than usual as the pre election period is in full swing and Parliament has been dissolved. We have details of the draft Scottish Bill which will allow Ministers to make changes to agricultural payments and policy; reports on the possibility of concluding the UK-EU trade talks before the end of December 2020 and the makeup of the new European Commission – without a UK Commissioner.
LEADSOM CONFIDENT OF UK-EU FREE TRADE DEAL BY END OF 2020
Speaking on 13 November in an interview with Robert Peston on ITV, Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said:
"We have to leave the European Union. We have to deliver on it. The fact is we are determined.
"I’m absolutely confident we will get that free trade deal done by the end of 2020. Until we reach the end of 2020 we won’t know for sure."
Mrs Leadsom said that the "30 plus page political declaration sets out that template for that deal," which she says ensures the UK has "a firm commitment from the European Union to signing a deal by the end of 2020."
She believes a change in the parliamentary arithmetic, achieved through a general election, will help ease the passage of a swift exit from the European Union and "get that good deal that will work for the UK and for the European Union."
NEW SCOTTISH LEGISLATION TO AMEND RETAINED EU LAW ON AGRICULTURE
The Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing MSP introduced the Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament on 6 November 2019 by. This Bill is the first piece of primary legislation introduced in the Scottish Parliament which grants powers to amend retained EU law as a result of EU exit in a particular subject area.
The Bill gives powers for Scottish Ministers, by regulation to:
- Make changes to “simplify or improve the operation of” any part of the CAP legislation.
- Provide for the continued operation of the CAP legislation in domestic law in Scotland post-2020, with power to change how it operates and its financial provisions. For example, Scottish Ministers may by regulations set national ceilings for spending beyond 2020, modulate budgets (move money) between Pillar 1 and Pillar 2, and set a cap on payments paid to a single recipient.
- Revoke, suspend or modify legislation on public intervention and private storage aid, which currently allows Governments to intervene in the market under exceptional circumstances to buy up and/or store products to support agricultural producers.
- Amend the conditions for aid to fruit and vegetable producer organisations in ways that would simplify or improve the operation of this legislation.
- Revoke the EU Food Promotion scheme.
- Change the requirements for food marketed in Scotland.
- Amend the classifications for beef, pig and sheep carcasses.
- Amend the definition of agricultural activity.
- Make requirements of people engaged in agricultural activity and in the agricultural supply chain to provide information on their activities.
- Impose additional requirements for providing information.
BARE BONES OF A TRADE DEAL?
According to the Sun newspaper, Sabine Weyand, Director General at the European Commission’s Trade Department, and previously the deputy Brexit negotiator for the Commission, said that there was only time to negotiate a ‘bare bones’ deal with the UK next year during the transition period up to 31 December 2020 as there wasn’t enough time to do a comprehensive trade deal.
The remarks were reportedly made during a breakfast meeting with the Transatlantic Policy Network in Brussels on 13 November where Ms Weyand said the only alternative to the bare bones deal was a no-deal Brexit at the end of the transition period.
A Commission spokesperson refused to comment on the reported remarks stating that this was a private meeting.
NEW TRADE COMMISSIONER BELIEVES QUICK PROGRESS IS POSSIBLE IN TRADE TALKS
Photo: European Commission AV Service, Photographer: Mauro Bottaro
New European Commissioner for Trade, Phil Hogan, believes that the UK-EU trade negotiations can move quickly. Speaking to RTÉ News on 13 November, Mr Hogan said that the European Commission had already done a substantial amount of preparation for the EU-UK future relationship negotiations and for this reason he believed the talks could be done quickly.
"I do feel there is political good will on both sides, having got this far in the Phase I negotiations [the Withdrawal Agreement] eventually they will not want - either side - to upset each other in having a frictionless tariff-free, quota-free agreement," he said.
"I would think there will be a significant amount of progress made because we will be ready to go in the springtime, the Council will have to give us a mandate.
"All the details around that can be achieved very quickly. We can get into the negotiations before St. Patrick's if there is political good will on the part of the United Kingdom and we’re ready to go."
Mr Hogan said that because the UK had been part of the EU’s trading regime for 45 years then neither side was starting from scratch in the negotiations.
"We're not starting from zero so therefore I believe we can do - with a bit of good will on both sides - we can do an agreement more quickly than we would do with any other negotiations around the world which would take three or four years.
"The United Kingdom has been part of the European Union. They’ve been part of the trade framework for the past 45 years, so we’re not starting from scratch."
Mr Hogan believes that a key issue would be the kinds of standards that British consumers wanted to adhere to.
"I would say a majority of the [EU] regulations that are there won't be a problem for the consumers or workers or people who are working in the environmental or agricultural [sphere] if they want to have the highest possible standards.
"I think that’s the key issue: standards."
GOVE RULES OUT TRANSITION PERIOD EXTENSION
Speaking in an interview with Andrew Marr on the BBC on 24 November 2019, Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove categorically ruled out any extension to the transition period beyond the 31 December 2020 deadline.
In response to questioning from Mr Marr on what would happen if there was no indication of a trade deal by autumn 2019, Mr Gove said “we have done a huge amount of work already - alongside the withdrawal agreement - in the political declaration which lays the groundwork for the deal that we want…. Across Europe there is an appetite to ensure that we tie up the loose ends and we conclude our relationship based on free trade and friendly cooperation….. We will secure a deal.”
NEW EUROPEAN COMMISSION
On 27 November, the European Parliament voted to approve the makeup of the new European Commission to be led by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. MEPs approved the new College of Commissioners with 461 votes in favour, 157 against and 89 abstentions.
Mrs Von der Leyen and her new College of Commissioners were supposed to take office on November 1 but their start date was delayed after the European Parliament rejected three commissioner nominees. The Parliament rejected the candidates put forward by France, Romania and Hungary. These Member States had to propose new candidates to replace initial nominees Rovana Plumb for Romania, László Trócsányi from Hungary and France’s Sylvie Goulard.
The new Commission's five-year term started on 1 December. Ursula von der Leyen will be the first woman to lead the Commission and her Commission will have the largest proportion of female Commissioners to date. She said: "My Commission will be a geopolitical Commission committed to sustainable policies. And I want the European Union to be the guardian of multilateralism. Because we know that we are stronger by doing together what we cannot do alone."
The agreement on the new Commission followed a dispute between the EU and the UK on the UK’s decision not to nominate a UK candidate to the Commission.
Tim Barrow, the UK Ambassador to the EU, wrote to the European Commission to state that the UK would not nominate a Commission until after the election on 12 December 2019. Nomination of a Commissioner is a legal obligation of continuing membership of the EU and Commission President elect Ursula von der Leyen wrote twice to the Government asking for the UK nomination. EU leaders made UK nomination of a candidate for the Commission a condition of granting a Brexit extension until 31 January 2020
However, official general election guidance from the UK’s Cabinet Office says the government should not put forward candidates for senior international appointments, including to European institutions, during an election period.
Following the official refusal of the UK to nominate a Commissioner on 13 November 2019, despite the two formal requests by the President-elect, the Commission decided on 14 November 2019 to launch an infringement procedure against the UK sending a letter of formal notice.
The Commission has since decided not to immediately escalate its infringement action despite the UK missing a November 22 deadline to present a candidate. Speaking on 25 November, a Commission spokesperson said that the Commission will analyse the situation and decide on possible next steps, “if any” when it deems appropriate.
EU SEEKS ‘CLOSEST POSSIBLE PARTNERSHIP’ WITH UK ON DEFENCE AND SECURITY
Speaking at the annual conference for the European Defence Agency on the 28 November, Chief Brexit negotiator and head of the UK Taskforce Michel Barnier commented on the EU-UK relationship on issues of security and defence:
“Brexit means Brexit – also when it comes to security and defence.
Once the United Kingdom has left the Union, it will be a third country . It wants and will pursue a foreign policy based on its own national interests. In the future, the EU and the United Kingdom will cooperate on different terms than today. But let me stress: The United Kingdom leaves the Union. It does not leave Europe.
We are bound by values, history and geography. We will continue to face major common challenges. In the face of threats to our shared security , we must continue to show unity and strategic solidarity. As European leaders did after the attack in Salisbury in 2018.
We must be strategic about our future cooperation on defence and security. Already in April 2017, Member States expressed their readiness to establish a close partnership with the United Kingdom in foreign, security and defence policy. This is what we agreed with the United Kingdom in the Political Declaration of October 2019. A relationship that is ambitious, flexible and scalable. And we want the closest possible partnership. We want to be:
- Partners in foreign policy to promote rules – based multilateralism and project shared values in the rest of the world;
- Partners in sanctions to facilitate consultation and mutually reinforcing restrictive measures when foreign policy objectives are aligned ;
- Partners on intelligence to fight terrorism and better anticipate emerging threats to Europe’s security;
- Partners on defence policy to ensure the stability of our neighbourhood; and in defence programmes to build cutting – edge equipment and facilitate interoperability of our armed forces;
- Partners in cyber-security to exchange information, promote global standards and combine expertise.
… Cooperation is Europe’s DNA. We want the United Kingdom to be our closest and most strategic partner. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. As a major NATO ally. As a member of the European family in security and defence.
In the future, we should seek to make intelligent use of existing rules for the association of third countries:
- By working together in the UN, G20 and G7 to defend our shared vision of the global order: one of rules – based multilateralism.
- By joining forces in EU – led stabilisation operations in Europe’s neighbourhood, as we have done already with more than 25 partners.
- By engaging together on the ground to deliver external action and manage global challenges in a coherent manner.
- And of course, by cooperating on defence technologies and equipment. Through an administrative arrangement with the European Defence Agency , as we do with four international partners today; or through the European Defence Fund”
Dec 12 2019: UK General Election
Dec 16 2019: First sitting of the new parliament
Jan 1 2020: Croatia’s presidency of the Council of the EU begins
Jan 31 2020: The final date in law by which the UK is scheduled to exit the EU (earlier dates are possible under the terms of the ‘flextension’)
1 July 2020: The date in the Withdrawal Agreement by which the UK and EU must decide if they want to extend the transition period beyond the current deadline of December 2020.