The International Trade Secretary continued trade negotiations with her Japanese counterparts this week in her bid to clinch Britain’s first trade deal with Japan. Both sides want a deal by the end of the Brexit transition period, and the UK will be using the 2019 EU-Japan trade agreement as a template, as it seeks to improve on its terms in strategic areas. The sticking points are Tokyo’s demands for cuts in tariffs on Japanese car exports, while the UK is holding out for better access for services, including new rules on data regulation, and for agriculture. Japan has insisted in negotiations with London that any deal with Britain cannot be as ambitious as the one it signed with the EU, given that the UK is a much smaller market.
Stockpile Panic 2.0
Perhaps the worst news to hear in the middle of a pandemic: government advice to drug suppliers to start stockpiling again in case of border disruption at the end of the transition period. In a letter from the Department of Health and Social Care, suppliers have been asked to prepare for all scenarios when the UK leaves the Brexit transition period. The clock is ticking for Britain to reach a deal with the EU by the end of the transition period and, once again, preparations must be made in case of a cliff-edge Brexit. Boris Johnson refused to extend the Brexit transition period last month despite disruption caused by coronavirus.
Nine months ago, staunch Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith “sniggered” in the House of Commons as he dismissed suggestions MPs should have the right to fully scrutinise the EU withdrawal agreement. This week, he put out a series of tweets saying the agreement will see the EU benefit from a ‘divorce payment’ denying the UK “true national independence.” His tweets went on to say the EU wants the UK to “stop being a competitor” and that the Withdrawal Agreement “sadly helps them”. Duncan Smith’s name was soon trending on Twitter, many people questioning why he had even voted for the Withdrawal Agreement in the first place if he was now so opposed to it. The erstwhile Tory leader was mocked for having voted against proper scrutiny of a Bill, then voting for that Bill, then complaining about never having understood that Bill.
Research by leading trade policy institute the UK Trade Policy Observatory has found government plans to build a network of 10 freeports after the end of the Brexit transition period will have virtually no material impact on the UK economy because duty savings are so small, they are “almost non-existent”. The research found the UK’s new global tariff (UKGT) schedule provided “minimal” opportunity for businesses to take advantage of fundamental aspects of freeports. This is despite the Treasury initially claiming freeports would help streamline the customs process and help level up the economy.
Meanwhile on the M20
A dreaded traffic jam system on the M20 is set to return in December as the government aims to minimise disruption once the Brexit transition period ends. Operation Brock caused months of frustration last year when a 15-mile stretch along the M20 in Kent was restricted to just two lanes by a metal barrier, and this is set to return at the end of the year. Boris Johnson launched a consultation on the plan on Monday with the intention of bringing the system back, in light of the UK and EU struggling to make a breakthrough in negotiations over a new free trade deal. The new checks are set to emerge even if a trade deal is agreed (Brock stands for BRexit Operations aCross Kent).
The Whitehouse team are experts in the potential impact of Brexit, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom but also across the member states of the European Union. More information about our Brexit experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at firstname.lastname@example.org