Britain will not seek to extend Brexit transition period, says minister | Politics

The UK government will tell the EU on Friday it is not going to seek an extension to the Brexit transition period, the paymaster general, Penny Mordaunt, has said. 

She told the House of Commons in an update on Brexit talks that she and Michael Gove would “emphasise that we will not be extending the transition period” when they meet EU counterparts at a Brexit joint committee meeting on Friday. 

It led to an immediate accusation of the government behaving recklessly, with the Scottish National party MP Pete Wishart accusing the Conservatives of trying to “heap misery upon misery” with Covid-19 and Brexit “the twin horsemen of the economic apocalypse” denying any prospect of recovery.

Mordaunt insisted the country would not be “barrelling off a cliff edge” and hoped to have a deal by autumn. It said the government would be able to divert money from the EU coffers to to “level up” the British economy. 

Mordaunt also strongly hinted that no-deal planning was back on the table. Asked what preparations the government was making for a collapse in talks she told the House it “would be prudent and wise for us to prepare for every scenario”.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, pressed the government to honour the “oven-ready” deal Boris Johnson promised in his general election campaign.

She was speaking as the former environment secretary Theresa Villiers said the government would not succumb to EU demands to access British fishing waters. 

“We are not going to see the compromises coming from Boris’s government,” Villiers said, arguing that the common fisheries policy (CFP) was “grossly unfair”. 

Her comments came days after Brexit talks over a future trade deal hit the buffers with four major areas of disagreement, including access to British seas for EU boats. 

“I just don’t see that the UK government is going to just shift in any substantive way from what is put on the table already,” Villiers told an Institute for Government webinar on Tuesday. 

She said the government was “intensely conscious of how crucial fisheries are to the Scottish economy” and fishing communities and would defend them.

Does 31 January change anything?

Friday will mark the start of what is likely to be an uphill battle to get a trade deal done by the end of the year, not to mention all the non-trade issues that must also be resolved including security and intelligence cooperation, fisheries, data, education and research collaboration.

Although everyday life will remain the same and the UK will remain in the single market and the customs union until the end of the year as part of transition arrangements, the withdrawal agreement will be a legally binding international treaty that comes into force. It carries sanctions for any “backsliding or half measures”, as Michel Barnier’s adviser Stefaan de Rynck has pointed out.

When will negotiations begin?

Expect plenty of sabre-rattling on both sides, but negotiations are unlikely to begin before March. The European commission kicked off its 30-stage process in agreeing its negotiating goals before Christmas and these are expected to be signed off by member states at a meeting on 25 February.

Who will be negotiating for the UK?

David Frost, who replaced Oliver Robbins as the chief negotiator, is expected to lead a team of about 30 calling on expert knowledge from civil servants and trade experts. Some have suggested the government should hire as many as possible from the Canadian team that sealed Canada’s new deal with the EU. 

What about Northern Ireland?

This remains the single most contentious part of the Brexit deal because of the checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea. De Rynck said in January that the EU and the UK would have to be “very disciplined” if they were to get a new system for trading in Northern Ireland ready for 31 December.

Brussels and Irish political leaders are already alarmed by Johnson’s repeated declarations that there will be no checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea, even though some of these will be mandatory.

Helen McEntee, Ireland’s minister for European affairs has contradicted him directly, telling Sky News’s Sophy Ridge: “There will be no checks 

Northern Ireland businesses have urged the government to set up a working group urgently so that the detail of the checks can be determined quickly.

Lisa O’Carroll Brexit correspondent

The impasse over sharing British fishing waters has thrown the prospects of a Brexit deal into disarray, with the UK and the EU calling for an acceleration of talks to try to break the logjam in July.

The UK has consistently said it will not extend the transition period, which ends in December.

Catherine Barnard, a senior fellow at the thinktank UK in a Changing Europe, said in a separate report published on Tuesday the threat of no deal raised the prospect of ugly fish wars in addition to trouble over the jurisdiction of the European court of justice in disputes over trade and state aid and European convention on human rights.

Salmon exports, a significant part of Scotland’s fishing economy, would become a more expensive option for EU diners with a 2% tariff on fresh salmon and 13% on smoked salmon. 

A recent study by the Wageningen University in the Netherlands suggested that while UK fishing would gain $420m (£400m) from having exclusive access to UK waters, it would lose $500m from the imposition of tariffs and non-tariff barriers on its exports, said James Kane, an associate at the independent thinktank the Institute for Government.

Villiers, who campaigned for Brexit, said the fishing communities “were sacrificed” when the UK joined the European Community in 1973 and would be defended.

“It is not the stated intention that we would keep our own British waters exclusively free for our boats, but I think many people including myself believe that that historic share of resources to which British vessels have had access on CFP is grossly unfair, and we do need to remedy that.”

Two weeks ago, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, consulted 11 fishing ministers about his mandate but UK hopes of a “more realistic” approach from the EU failed to materialise in the fourth round talks last week.

While fishing remains one of the most emblematic issues for Brexiters, the report by UK in a Changing Europe warns of the wider implications.

Crashing out would strain future relations with the EU and according to Barnard would present “significant legal trouble”.

While some believe Johnson is minded to bury the economic and business pain of no deal in the coronavirus crisis, Jonathan Portes, one of the report’s authors, said he did not think the economic shock of the pandemic would “provide much of a smokescreen, as it were for the economic impacts of what happens in January”.

After 47 years and 30 days it was all over. As the clock struck 11pm on 31 January 2020, the UK was officially divorced from the EU and began trying to carve out a new global role as a sovereign nation. It was a union that got off to a tricky start and continued to be marked by the UK’s sometimes conflicted relationship with its neighbours.

Brefusal

The French president, Charles de Gaulle, vetoes Britain’s entry to EEC, accusing the UK of a “deep-seated hostility” towards the European project.

Brentry

With Sir Edward Heath having signed the accession treaty the previous year, the UK enters the EEC in an official ceremony complete with a torch-lit rally, dickie-bowed officials and a procession of political leaders, including former prime ministers Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home.
Lisa O’Carroll

Referendum

The UK decides to stay in the common market after 67% voted “yes”. Margaret Thatcher, later to be leader of the Conservative party, campaigned to remain.

‘Give us our money back’

Margaret Thatcher negotiated what became known as the UK rebate with other EU members after the “iron lady” marched into the former French royal palace at Fontainebleau to demand “our own money back” claiming for every £2 contributed we get only £1 back” despite being one of the “three poorer” members of the community.

It was a move that sowed the seeds of Tory Euroscepticism that was to later cause the Brexit schism in the party. 

The Bruges speech

Thatcher served notice on the EU community in a defining moment in EU politics in which she questioned the expansionist plans of Jacques Delors, who had remarked that 80% of all decisions on economic and social policy would be made by the European Community within 10 years with a European government in “embryo”. That was a bridge too far for Thatcher.

The cold war ends

Collapse of Berlin wall and fall of communism in eastern Europe, which would later lead to expansion of EU.

‘No, no, no’

Divisions between the UK and the EU deepened with Thatcher telling the Commons in an infamous speech it was ‘no, no, no’ to what she saw as Delors’ continued power grab. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper ratchets up its opposition to Europe with a two-fingered “Up yours Delors” front page.

Black Wednesday

A collapse in the pound forced prime minister John Major and the then chancellor Norman Lamont to pull the UK out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

The single market

On 1 January, customs checks and duties were removed across the bloc. Thatcher hailed the vision of “a single market without barriers – visible or invisible – giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people”.

Maastricht treaty

Tory rebels vote against the treaty that paved the way for the creation of the European Union. John Major won the vote the following day in a pyrrhic victory. 

Repairing the relationship

Tony Blair patches up the relationship. Signs up to social charter and workers’ rights.

Ukip

Nigel Farage elected an MEP and immediately goes on the offensive in Brussels. “Our interests are best served by not being a member of this club,” he said in his maiden speech. “The level playing field is about as level as the decks of the Titanic after it hit an iceberg.”

The euro

Chancellor Gordon Brown decides the UK will not join the euro.

EU enlarges to to include eight countries of the former eastern bloc including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

EU expands again, allowing Romania and Bulgaria into the club.

Migrant crisis

Anti-immigration hysteria seems to take hold with references to “cockroches” by Katie Hopkins in the Sun and tabloid headlines such as “How many more can we take?” and “Calais crisis: send in the dogs”.

 David Cameron returns with reform package.

Brexit referendum

Britain leaves the EU

“Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit are major shocks for the UK economy. The interaction of the two is complex and unpredictable, with the potential to amplify some impacts while moderating others,” he said.

“On balance, the pandemic probably does make the economic risks of exiting transition on January 2021 without a trade deal larger, but considerable uncertainties remain.”

The senior fellow Jill Rutter said the politics of crashing out at the end of the year without the trade deal promised “are a bit underplayed at the moment” with a price expected to be exacted by Keir Starmer’s Labour party if a deal does not emerge in the autumn.