Brexit trade talks restart amid continuing pandemic restrictions

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As 2020 began, it was anticipated that UK and EU officials would be totally immersed in hammering out the terms of a new trading relationship over the course of the next 12 months.

The coronavirus pandemic has put paid to that notion. The respective chief negotiators, Michel Barnier and David Frost have both had to self-isolate recently having contracted COVID-19. However, there are signs of tentative attempts to get the ball rolling again after a six-week hiatus. Videoconferencing sessions have taken place in recent days to address the technical aspects of negotiations and to set out the key issues involved.

Not least of these, before tackling the specific policy areas, is to decide whether the transition period should be extended. Prior to the escalation of the pandemic crisis, the UK position was strongly opposed to this course of action. However, with the 30 June deadline to request an extension on the horizon and coronavirus understandably continuing to dominate the agenda, will this stance shift? Early indications from Boris Johnson’s team suggest not but many experts believe that extending transition into 2021 is inevitable under the present circumstances as, even if a deal could be reached in principle, businesses would not be in a position to implement it.

Turning to the various strands of trade negotiations that will recommence, these include governance, customs checks and tariffs, fisheries arrangements and haulage.

As things stand, unless a trade deal is reached by 31 December 2020, the UK will leave the EU and have to operate under World Trade Organisation terms. Most projections indicate that this would have negative economic consequences.

With no prospect of face-to-face meetings in sight, the task of reaching agreement has been made more difficult and will potentially bring further delay to the process. Further talks are set for the weeks commencing 11 May and 1 June.