Brexit Constitution

Coronavirus: Brexit

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted negotiations between the UK and EU this spring. Both are still preparing for the end of the transition period on 31 December. However, there are significant differences in their approaches to the future relationship, as well as disagreements on specific areas. Meanwhile, the EU has taken steps to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. During the transition period, many of these measures apply to the UK as well.

Estimated reading time: 6 Minutes

This article was last updated on 22 May 2020

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted negotiations between the UK and EU this spring. Both are still preparing for the end of the transition period on 31 December. However, there are significant differences in their approaches to the future relationship, as well as disagreements on specific areas. Meanwhile, the EU has taken steps to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. During the transition period, many of these measures apply to the UK as well.

How are the future relationship negotiations progressing?

The UK and EU have now held three rounds of talks to negotiate their future relationship. In statements on 15 May, both sides agreed that little progress had been made and identified fisheries and level playing field rules as key areas of disagreement.

UK chief negotiator David Frost called for ‘a standard Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, with other key agreements on issues like law enforcement, civil nuclear, and aviation alongside’. The UK published draft texts for agreements with the EU on 19 May.

For his part, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier stressed the importance of developing a ‘single governance framework’ for the future relationship. The EU published a single draft legal text for the future relationship in March.

The UK and EU started negotiations for their future relationship on 3 March. They initially planned five negotiating rounds of a few days each between the beginning of March and mid-May.

The second and third rounds of negotiations did not take place as planned due to the coronavirus pandemic. On 15 April, UK and EU chief negotiators David Frost and Michel Barnier agreed instead to hold three week-long negotiating rounds via videoconference, starting on 20 April, 11 May and 1 June, and to take stock at the planned progress meeting in June.

The UK Government has said it will not seek an extension to the transition period as a result of the virus, even if the EU asks for one. If the UK does not reach agreement with the EU or agree an extension, it will leave the transition period on the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement alone.

Under the Withdrawal Agreement, the transition period is scheduled until 31 December 2020 but can be extended once for up to either one or two years. If an extension is sought, the UK must notify the EU by 1 July 2020. However, the UK Government has legislated to prevent Ministers from agreeing to an extension in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. Our Brexit timeline sets out the key dates between now and the end of December.

Brexit Timeline

The First Minister has written to the Prime Minister to ask him to seek an extension in light of the pandemic. On 7 May, the Minister for European Transition, Jeremy Miles, said that ‘despite the promises of improved engagement as the future relationship negotiations got underway, Ministerial engagement became even more inadequate’. He said that a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) – the forum that brings together the four  governments of the UK to discuss the negotiations – was planned for the middle of May, the first since January.

The UK Government also aims to negotiate new trade agreements with other countries, at the same time as negotiating the future relationship with the EU. The first round of negotiations for a UK-US free trade agreement took place between 5 and 15 May, after being delayed since March. The UK Government issued a statement on the outcome of the first negotiating round on 18 May, and confirmed that the next round would take place between 15 and 22 June.

On 13 May, the UK Government published its negotiating objectives for a free trade agreement with Japan; negotiations are expected to begin shortly. Negotiating objectives for free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand will also soon be published.

How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting preparations for the end of the transition period?

As well as negotiating their future relationship, the UK and EU also need to implement the Withdrawal Agreement. The UK-EU Joint Committee on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement met via teleconference for the first time on 30 March. The UK Government and European Commission each published statements after the meeting.

On 15 April, chief negotiators David Frost and Michel Barnier agreed that the ‘proper and timely’ implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement was a ‘key priority for both sides’. The Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Ireland and Northern Ireland Protocol met for the first time on 30 April. The UK and EU have both published documents on the implementation of the Protocol.

At domestic level, the UK and devolved Governments have been preparing for the transition period to end on 31 December. For example, changes to the immigration system, a new Shared Prosperity Fund to replace EU regional funding, and common UK policy frameworks for areas covered by EU law are planned. The Minister for European Transition outlined the impact of the pandemic on preparedness in Wales in his statement on 7 May.

One key issue for the Senedd is scrutinising legislation arising from EU exit. The UK and Welsh Governments are aiming to pass new laws to enable UK and devolved authorities to replace EU law in future . In several cases, the Welsh Government has agreed to the UK Government introducing legislation in devolved areas to do this. As these Bills affect devolved powers, the Senedd needs to consider whether to grant consent to them under the legislative consent convention. The Welsh Government has laid Legislative Consent Memorandums on the Agriculture, Fisheries, Environment and Trade Bills.

How will EU measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic affect the UK during the transition period?

Healthcare is the responsibility of Member States in the EU. However, the EU is still taking a range of different steps to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, most EU rules apply to the UK during the transition period, but the UK is not formally represented in the EU’s institutions. UK representatives can participate in EU discussions where those discussions concern the UK and they have been invited to do so, but they do not have voting rights.

During the transition period, different kinds of EU action to tackle the pandemic apply to the UK in different ways. What will happen after the transition period is subject to the ongoing future relationship negotiations.

Next steps

In the Political Declaration, the UK and EU committed to reaching agreement on fisheries and financial services by the beginning of July and concluding negotiations on a future relationship in time for any agreement to be ratified by the UK and EU by 31 December 2020.


Article by Lucy Valsamidis, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament

We’ve published a range of material on the coronavirus pandemic, including a post setting out the help and guidance available for people in Wales and a timeline of Welsh and UK governments’ response.

You can see all our coronavirus-related publications by clicking here. All are updated regularly.

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