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Brexit round-up – 01/05/20

Welcome to this, our latest Brexit round-up. Each week we provide a succinct round-up of the latest news surrounding the Brexit process, so you can keep abreast of the issues which are likely to affect your organisation.

EU Select Committee appoints new sub-committees to reflect UK’s changed relationship with the EU

On 23 April 2020, the House of Lords EU Select Committee published an article setting out a new structure to reflect the UK’s changed relationship with the EU. The new structure, which involves a reduction from six to four EU facing sub-committees, sits alongside a revised terms of reference agreed by the House of Lords. It is designed to help the Committee scrutinise the government’s policies and actions in respect of the EU, including the conduct of negotiations on the UK-EU relationship and its implementation of the withdrawal agreement and to consider EU proposals in detail. The four EU facing sub-committees are the EU Environment Sub-Committee, the EU Goods Sub-Committee, the EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee and the EU Services Sub-Committee. The Committee has also established an International Agreements Sub-Committee to scrutinise all new international agreements, or treaties, negotiated and concluded by the UK government with countries and organisations other than the EU.

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House of Commons Library publishes article on extending transition period

The House of Commons Library has published an article; Coronavirus: Is it possible to extend the Brexit transition period?, which sets out the legal and procedural hurdles in the withdrawal agreement and in UK domestic law, to any extension of the post-Brexit transition period. It notes that the coronavirus pandemic has affected the negotiations between the government and the EU, which has led some to consider the desirability of an extension. The article notes that a one-off extension to the transition period is possible however, such an extension can be for no more than two years and it would need to be agreed by a decision of the joint UK-EU committee before 1 July 2020. The UK and EU would need to agree both the length of an extension and other terms, such as the UK’s financial contribution to the EU budget for the extended period. The government has so far been opposed to any extension. The article notes that under section 15A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 UK ministers are prohibited from agreeing to an extension of the transition period in the joint committee therefore, if the government wanted to agree to an extension, it would first need to make sure that section 15A was repealed, which would mean having to pass a further Act of Parliament. Section 15A does not prevent a minister from discussing or proposing an extension of the transition period. If an extension were agreed, Parliament would need to pass a further Act to change the definition of IP completion day, which is currently defined in section 39 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 as 31 December 2020 at 11.00 pm (UK time). Parliament will also face an issue if it needed to debate and approve legislation during the current coronavirus pandemic. On 16 April 2020, the House of Commons announced plans for a hybrid chamber. The physical chamber would be limited to 50 or so socially-distanced MPs, but a further 120 MPs would be able to participate virtually to question ministers. At present, these arrangements would not allow MPs to vote remotely on a motion or on legislation. Only those physically present, or who have a proxy, could register a vote.

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Progress made in post-Brexit trade talks is “disappointing”

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said that “genuine progress” and a decision on whether to extend the transition period were both needed by June and that progress which has been made to date on post-Brexit trade talks between the UK and EU has been disappointing. Following last week’s talks, which took place via video-conferencing due to coronavirus, Mr Barnier said there were four areas where progress was “disappointing”, including the level playing field, justice and fisheries. He said that a joint decision would be taken on 30 June about whether to extend the transition period. However the UK government has already said that it will not extend the transition period if no agreement is reached. A UK spokesperson said that the EU’s offer on goods trade “falls well short of recent precedent in FTAs (free trade agreements) it has agreed with other sovereign countries” and that it “remains committed to a deal with a free trade agreement at its core.”

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If you have any questions about any of the issues which are raised, or would like to discuss your own organisation’s options during the Brexit process, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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