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Brexit round-up – 13/03/20

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.

First round of trade talks concludes

The first round of trade talks between the UK and the EU concluded last week with, second round is due to start on 18 March. Both sides agreed that differences remained as the UK wants a “Canada-style” free trade agreement but the EU wants a closer relationship with the UK post Brexit. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that the UK should consider the trade-offs it is willing to make in a post-Brexit deal as the closer its access to the single market is, the more it must adhere to EU rules. Michael Gove said the UK “would regain its economic and political independence” and any deal “would need to reflect that reality.” He has previously said that if there is no indication of a deal being reached by June the Government would end talks with the EU. Mr Gove said there had been “a degree of common understanding” during the discussions in some areas, which would be returned to in future talks but “In other areas, notably fisheries, governance and dispute settlement, and the so-called ‘level playing field’, there were, as expected, significant differences.” Mr Gove said the UK expected to table a number of legal texts, including a draft free trade agreement, ahead of the next round of talks.

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“Serious” differences remain between the UK and EU, says Barnier

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said that following the first round of trade talks “very difficult” areas needed to be resolved, but a “good agreement for both sides” remained possible. He said that there were disagreements over competition rules as there was a “question of trust” over the UK’s pledge to ensure fair and open competition. The EU wants the UK to sign up to strict competition rules, and to “ensure the application” in the UK of EU state-aid rules on subsidies for business but Boris Johnson has rejected this approach. There were also differences over fishing regulations with the EU wanting to “uphold” existing access to British waters for vessels from member states, to avoid “economic dislocation” for their fishermen. However, the UK has proposed to hold annual talks over access to its waters. Both sides have pledged to find a solution on that issue before July. There were also differences over police co-ordination and how a deal with be enforced.

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Brexit could compromise UK’s ability to secure coronavirus vaccine quickly and cheaply

With coronavirus continuing to spread, a vaccine is not expected to be available until next year, at which point the UK will have left the EU. If a vaccine is not available until after we leave the EU then the UK would be outside of the EU’s medicines regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA). If no alignment to EMA approvals is agreed as part of the trade talks then drug makers would prioritise the EU market rather than submitting their drug to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency first. It is unclear at this stage whether the Government plans to seek special access to the EMA’s rapid approval system post Brexit. The Brexit mandate states that the UK is “open to exploring cooperation between the U.K. and EU in other specific and narrowly defined areas where this is in the interest of both sides, for example on matters of health security” but nothing is yet to be decided in relation to this in the current trade talks.

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Brexit talks could be delayed due to coronavirus

With coronavirus now being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, it is thought that this may delay the second round of Brexit talks which were due to start on 18 March.  Michel Gove has said that these talks could now be cancelled but insisted that if that happens the Brexit transition period will not be extended.  Mr Gove said “We were also looking forward to the next stage of negotiations going ahead but we have had indications today from Belgium there may be specific public health concerns.”  EU ambassador to the U.K., João Vale de Almeida, also refused to rule out a delay saying “I don’t think we can exclude anything at this point in time, given the magnitude of this crisis.”

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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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