Brexit talks remain at an impasse as Northern Irish firms push for 'adjustment period'

Mon 8 Jun 2020
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

irish border

The latest round of negotiations for the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU remain deadlocked with negotiators now calling on leaders to inject fresh impetus into the talks.

The major stumbling blocks continue to be “the level playing field of rules and standards, governance and fisheries”, according to Politico.

Michel Barnier and David Frost, the lead negotiators for the EU and UK respectively, have said a breakthrough is needed, with Barnier saying the talks cannot “go on like this forever” and Frost saying they were at “an important moment”.

‘Wishful thinking’

The deadline for a decision on an extension to the transition period is on 30 June though the UK has repeatedly said it will not request one.

The UK says it hopes to press on with talks over the summer in hope of a deal before the scheduled end of the transition on 31 December 2020.

Bloomberg predicts Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission President, will directly intervene next week to try to persuade Prime Minister Boris Johnson to compromise on some of the major sticking points.

A spokesman for the PM called the likelihood of this working was “wishful thinking”.

Irish Protocol

Business chiefs in Northern Ireland are also urging government to delay trade checks for a period of six months after December 2020.

The leaders say they have received little information from London on the practicalities of the Irish protocol agreed to in last year’s Withdrawal Agreement.

The call comes from a Brexit working group comprising 15 trade bodies in Northern Ireland, representing 90% of the region’s companies.

The protocol will require checks and documentation for goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland unless special arrangements are negotiated as part of the ongoing trade talks.

‘Period of adjustment’

Stephen Kelly, chief of Manufacturing NI, told the FT businesses will need a period of adjustment once details of the protocol are finalised and made public.

“At this point in time we don’t have any process, any system, any IT, any idea about what this is going to look like,” he said. “So, when you don’t have any of that, you don’t have any ability to begin training people.”

Michel Barnier said there can only be an adjustment period for Northern Irish business if the UK as a whole agreed to an extension to the transition period.

‘Trusted trader’

The group has called for a ‘trusted trader’ scheme to cover customs. sanitary and phytosanitary checks for the agrifood trade.

Michel Barnier has said simplified customs procedures and declarations could be introduced for “large operators” including supermarkets, and that this would be “pragmatic”.

"We're ready to work with the UK further on all aspects which the EU customs code can offer which will facilitate trade and do everything we can to that end, but for that we need genuine commitment also from the UK side on a number of technical issues which I have to say currently isn’t forthcoming," he said.