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How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted Brexit?

Do you remember a time when the biggest thing dividing the British nation was which side of the Brexit debate you sat on? Thanks to Covid-19, we’re more divided than ever. Anyone you meet could be a carrier of the virus, and we’re still shutting ourselves away from one another. OK, the restrictions are lifting, but coronavirus has done a lot to change the way our nation behaves. Although Covid-19 has changed a lot of our plans, the government haven’t changed the date on which Britain will leave the EU. That’s still going ahead on 31st December 2020.

Withdrawal agreement

The government has reached agreement on withdrawal, but they haven’t agreed on a trade deal with EU nations yet. That means there’s still a chance we’ll leave the European Union without a deal. The PM, Boris Johnson, said the UK wouldn’t seek an extension, so is he doing anything to get an agreement in place or his cabinet too occupied with Covid-19?

Impasse

Setting a deadline is a great way of getting an answer on something, but it also writes you into a corner. Boris Johnson’s bullish negotiations seem to have forced the UK into a corner. The PM was too occupied by the pandemic to negotiate with Europe, so although the UK has been out of the EU since January, he didn’t speak to his counterparts on the continent until the middle of June. There’s talk of “accelerating negotiations”, but that seems to be the PM’s justification for putting off intensive negotiations with the union’s three presidents — Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission, Charles Michel of the European Council and David Sassoli of the European Parliament – until July. All that was agreed in June was “that new momentum was required.” So, nothing was agreed at all. Well done, chaps.

Negotiations

At the moment, both sides want the other to believe they’re open to a no deal outcome, but that can’t be true. A no deal conclusion would be slightly worse for Britain which sends 40 per cent of its exports to the EU and gets 50 per cent of its imports from the continent, but Europe would also feel the pinch. Without coming to an understanding, the UK could loosen its regulations and lower taxes to make European goods less competitive. The signs are that both sides need to reach a compromise, so fingers are crossed in London and Brussels that negotiators will find common ground.

Borders

There’s an indication that if no deal is agreed, the UK might back down on its plan to introduce full border checks on goods imported from the EU. Before Covid-19, the UK announced that from 1st January 2021, import controls would be firmly in place. Now ministers are suggesting that the economic impact of coronavirus will make the UK relax that regulation for the foreseeable future.

Cover story

Is the pandemic being used to cover up a no deal Brexit? Is the PM being a lot cleverer than he looks? There’s a chance that the PM’s talk of a no deal exit is not him posturing for a deal. The way coronavirus has reshaped the UK’s economy, with companies creating new supply chains, and re-shoring of some production from abroad could mean that living life without European restrictions is the way to go. Image the UK without the constraints imposed by the EU with its labour and environmental standards and state aid rules. A no deal Brexit could allow Britain to adapt to the brave new world we’ll enter when coronavirus is a thing of the past. If you are a cynic, you might suggest that coronavirus has created an opportunity to hide the loss of growth from a no trade deal under the dramatic drop in GDP caused by coronavirus.

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