With five months left to go before 29th March 2019, is there a deal in sight? Well, this week saw Brexit secretary Dominic Raab indicate in a letter to the Commons Exiting the EU Committee that a deal would be finalised by 21 November. But before you get all excited, DExEU issued a statement shortly after, downplaying Raab's statement, stating that “there is no set date for the negotiations to conclude”.
So where are we now? According to the same letter by Raab, both sides “agree on the principle of a UK wide customs backstop. An agreement on the details of that backstop should be possible”. Simon Coveney, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs said in a press conference this week that if there is to be a breakthrough in November, both negotiating teams need to find a way forward “in the next week or so” that reflects the commitments on the Irish backstop made in December and repeated in March by the UK Government. Little details have emerged on exactly how the Irish border issue will be resolved, but according to the FT, there are indications that Brussels is willing to negotiate the details of an all-UK customs backstop.
Even if both sides reach a Withdrawal Agreement which will see a transition period last up until December 2020, where will we be after that? As our latest blog explore, there is no guarantee that there will, in fact, be a deal on the future relationship come December 2020.
Evidence given to Commons Select Committees shows the UK is not ready for a no deal Brexit in March
Leaving aside all the speculation about when a deal may be finalised, what is becoming increasingly clear is that the UK is far from ready to leave without a deal in March 2019. Take the evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee given by NHS Providers, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and Healthcare Distribution Association last week. For example, 46 million packs of medicines per month leave the UK for the continent and 37 million packs come back the other way, majority needing cold storage. Any delays would need additional storage that could take up to 2 years to build according to the experts.
Then there is the evidence given by Immigration Minister, Carolines Nokes to the Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday who’s left everyone quite confused about what will happen to the status of EU citizens, both those who currently reside in the UK and those who arrive after March 2019, in the event of a no deal. Nokes told the Committee that “we will have to put in place provision to turn off free movement as quickly as we possibly can”. Then, Sajid Javid struck a very different tone when he appeared on Peston on Wednesday night- saying that in the event of a no deal, there will be a sensible transition period’ with same employer checks on EU citizens as now. Yvette Cooper’s thread on the issue summaries the confusion quite well. The EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee in the Lords has also written to the Minister after its inquiry into 'Brexit: freedom of movement in the fields of sport and culture', highlighting concerns about the impact Brexit will have on EU citizens working in the UK sports sector and asking for clarification on the UK Government's policy.
The evidence given by Northern Ireland Business Groups last week to the Exiting the European Committee also gave some sobering warnings about the impacts of a no deal Brexit for businesses in Northern Ireland. Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, told the committee that while a backstop is not perfect “it is much preferable to the alternative of a no dealTake, for example, if we go to most-favoured-nation status with the WTO; consumers will see beef up to 37% dearer, cheese up to 43% dearer and tomatoes up to 8% dearer. We are already at the lowest baseline economically of any of the regions and countries throughout the UK. Quite simply, the Northern Ireland consumer and Northern Ireland shopper does not have the ability to absorb these cost rises that could come from a no-deal scenario”.
The evidence is now coming in thick and fast. Take for example yesterday the Road Hauliers Association yesterday giving evidence to the Lords EU Internal Market Subcommittee when it was articulated that officials realise that in event of no deal 'the plans they are preparing would probably not make a significant difference to the almost virtual collapse of trade across the channel' because of unavailability of permits. As the Association said “we have just over 100 working days to go. We are not prepared. We are nowhere near prepared. Our industry is not prepared, the European industry is not prepared. No-one is ready to roll with this”.
Government announces £9 million grant to help the voluntary sector inform vulnerable EU citizens about settled status scheme
You may have already seen this, but last week the Home Office announcedfunding of up to £9 millions will be available to help voluntary and community organisations across the UK inform vulnerable individuals about the need to apply for settled status and support them to complete their applications to protect their status as the UK exits the EU. Organisations working with people who might be affected and require additional support can apply for project funding from the end of November.
Join us in Cumrbia for a roundtable discussion on Brexit & Civil Society
In partnership with Cumbria Youth Alliance and ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, the Brexit Civil Society Alliance is hosting a roundtable discussion on what Brexit means for the third sector in Cumbria. Our goal is to bring civil society and relevant stakeholders together to network and share information- the roundtable discussion will also be an opportunity to express thoughts and concerns about Brexit's impact on your organisation. More info here.
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