Brexit talks resume: who is involved and what is being covered? | Politics

Brexit talks on the future relationship between the UK and the EU resumed this week after a six-week interruption caused by coronavirus.

Over five days and 40 video sessions, 10 negotiating teams were expected to provide an urgent “refocus” before the 30 June deadline for both sides to formally agree to extend the transition period if the UK asks for one.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s lead negotiator, will host a press conference at noon on Friday in Brussels to give updates, but his team were told on Monday that Boris Johnson was not budging on the issue of the extensions.

Barnier’s opposite number, David Frost, opened the first plenary session by “reiterating the government wish not to extend the transition period and that the job could be done by the end of the year”.

Some observers said the UK government’s position that an extension is not necessary was astonishing given the depth of the coronavirus crisis.

Philip Rycroft, a former chief civil servant at the now defunct Brexit department, told Prospect magazine: “It is simple common sense to ask for an extension of the transition period.”

Sam Lowe, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform thinktank, believes an extension is inevitable but Johnson has “no incentive” to seek one until June, the deadline for a one-off UK request.

“A free-trade agreement could still be agreed but it would be hard to implement. Even if we were coming to the end of this pandemic by then, businesses will be not be prepared,” said Lowe, who described himself as optimistic that a free-trade deal could be done by the end of the year, albeit a poor one.

This week’s talks centred solely on the future relationship. A separate strand of work is under way on the implementation of the withdrawal agreement signed off in January.

Here is an overview of who is involved in the discussions and what areas are covered.

Joint committee

Featuring Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, and Maroš Šefčovič, a European commission vice-president, the committee met for the first time on 30 March and will make decisions on recommendations made by civil servants who will staff six specialised committees.

Those committees cover the Northern Ireland protocol; citizens’ rights; British sovereign army bases in Cyprus, the divorce bill, Gibraltar and “other separation issues”. Who is on the committees, how often they will meet and precisely what they will be exploring has yet to be disclosed.

Northern Ireland checks

The Ireland Northern Ireland specialised committee (INISC) will meet for the first time on 30 April. The Cabinet Office has confirmed that the INISC will be “comprised of official-level representatives of the EU and the UK” and will “meet as regularly as required to facilitate engagement between the UK and the EU on protocol implementation”.

A working group will also be set up to feed into the committee. TheCabinet Office says it will act “as a forum for the exchange of information and mutual consultation” on implementation. So expect industry bodies and experts to be asked to submit to this group.

The remaining specialised committees have not yet been scheduled.

Jess Sargeant, a researcher at the Institute for Government thinktank, said the INISC was likely to make recommendations to the joint committee. One urgent task is to look at what goods will be subject to tariffs when crossing the Irish Sea using data on trade journeys and the goods “at risk” of entering the single market by crossing the border into the Republic of Ireland.

Border inspection posts

The location of border inspection posts for controls on goods crossing the Irish Sea has yet to be decided, unsurprisingly given Johnson has insisted there would be no checks. The EU would prefer posts to be located in places such as the ports of Liverpool and Cairnryan in Scotland.


This is one of the most contentious areas and the EU has said there will be no deal unless agreed in outline by June. The chances of progress in this week’s talks have been hampered by the failure of the UK to issue a legal text giving detail to how it envisages its new status as an independent coastal state to work. The EU issued text for all areas but the UK issued a partial text. “This means the text the negotiating teams will be discussing is the EU’s text, not the UK’s,” a source said.


Gove told parliament as recently as February that the UK needed an army of 50,000 customs agents to deal with cross-border trade from January 2021. It seem unlikely much progress has been made here.


The immigration bill, which would have closed the borders to low-paid unskilled workers from January, has been shelved, the leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, announced this week. Few believe the government can forge ahead with a change of public attitude to foreign low-paid workers in social care, health, retail and agriculture.


The Road Haulage Association has called for the transition period to be extended. It says the industry is on life support.

“We are totally focused on coronavirus and our position is there is a real need for a delay to Brexit talks. Our industry is struggling to survive with more than 70% saying they face going to the wall within 12 weeks,” said Rod McKenzie, head of policy and public affairs.

He said a survey of 4,500 hauliers found half of drivers were inactive and 50% of trucks parked up.

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