There has been a flurry of Brexit developments this week.
Yesterday afternoon saw the Prime Minister and eleven senior ministers decamp to Chequers in what has been described as a ministerial “away day”. The object – over eight hours of scheduled talks – was to agree the UK’s approach to the next phase of Brexit talks, which will attempt to reach agreement on an implementation / transition period and on at least the outline of the future UK-EU trade relationship. Reports today suggest that the meeting resulted in agreement.
For background reading on what has already been agreed in the negotiations, see our briefing on the Phase 1 Agreement.
On Wednesday, Whitehall published its response to the EU’s proposals for the two-year transition period after Brexit. It said that the period should last as long as it takes to “prepare and implement the new processes and new systems”. Whether this represents a departure from the government’s previous position of two years remains to be seen. The EU has said the transition phase should end on 31 December 2020, to coincide with the end of its current budget period. The estimated financial payment, thought to be between £35 and 39 billion, has been calculated on the basis that the transitional period will end on 31 December 2020. Any extension to the period could therefore result in an increased payment.
There is some divergence developing between the UK and the EU on the status of EU nationals arriving during transition. The EU’s position is that EU nationals arriving during the transitional period should enjoy the same rights and protections as those who arrive before Brexit day. The UK Government insists that that should not be the case. However, the UK response document is silent on this issue. It also contains no suggestion of a veto to block new EU laws. It also does not seek any power to negotiate and implement new international trade deals during the implementation period without the EU’s permission but does suggest that the EU and UK could agree that EU agreements with other countries (e.g. free trade agreements) would continue to apply to the UK during the period. This reflects the technical note on international agreements that was published by the UK Government earlier this month. Unlike the UK’s implementation text, that note reflected the fact that such an arrangement cannot simply be agreed between the UK and EU – each of the other countries involved would also have to agree.
Chequers away day
It was against this background that the ministerial away day commenced yesterday afternoon. Talks lasted for approximately eight hours, ending at 10pm as scheduled. There are various reports in the media about the outcome of the talks (see example here) but, overall, it appears that a position was agreed that can be put to the full cabinet on Tuesday. More details are expected to be revealed in a speech to be delivered by the Prime Minister later next week. Whether that position will be agreed in cabinet or within the broader Conservative Party remains to be seen. Even if the opening position is broadly supported, the Government will still have to tread a fine line in the negotiations with the EU if it is to get any future deal through Parliament.