Boris Johnson, Brexit, British Government, Conservative Party, Customs Union, Irish border, Negotiating, Northern Ireland, Single Market

International Law… what’s that, says the dead cat

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Last week was some Brexit week, a week in which the UK government introduced legislation, the internal market bill, which a government minister admitted in the Commons would break international law, but only in a “specific and limited way”.

The minister, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis MP, was talking about the powers the government proposed to take which would allow them to override provisions in the Withdrawal Act signed with the EU in 2019 when it comes to the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The UK, according to the minister, was deliberately and consciously going to break an international treaty that it had only recently signed.

The international treaty, the Withdrawal Agreement, provides that Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, will remain in the EU’s customs union and single market for goods to avoid rebuilding a hard border on the island of Ireland between Northern Ireland and Ireland, a continuing member of the EU.

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Boris Johnson, Brexit, British Government, Customs Union, Data Protection, Data transfers, Michel Barnier, Negotiating, Single Market, Trade Deals

A “No-Deal” Brexit looms ever closer

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On January 1, 2021, whether there is a deal between the UK and the EU on future trading relations or not, significant new barriers to doing business between the UK and the EU will come into existence. There is no possible agreement between the UK and the EU that can eliminate these new barriers and borders because of the UK’s decision to leave the EU’s single market and customs unions.

At best, an agreement will provide for tariff free and quota free trade in goods between the two. But such an agreement would not eliminate the need for paperwork and customs checks, to certify such things as “rules of origin” – where the goods in question, and the components in them, were actually made. Indeed, it has been estimated that UK business will need to recruit at least 50,000 customs agents just to handle the additional paperwork involved in the export of goods.

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Boris Johnson, Brexit, British Government, Data transfers, Michel Barnier

Brexit No Deal still looks likely

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A week or so ago, I came across this tweet from Simon Fraser, whose Twitter profile says: “Managing Partner Flint Global. Vice Chair Chatham House. Was Perm Sec UK Foreign Office & Business Dept & Chief of Staff EU Trade Commissioner.” A person, therefore, of some considerable substance and experience.

A good moment, after downbeat official comment on the latest #Brexit talks, to remind ourselves just how extraordinary a failure of successive governments it will be if UK leaves EU after four and a half years of negotiation with no agreement on the future relationship.

Which prompts the question: was an agreement ever possible? Or was Brexit always framed in such a way that for Brexiteers “no deal” was always the only “true Brexit”?

But before seeking to answer this question, let’s look at where we are now, following another couple of weeks of inconclusive talks between the EU and the UK. To put it as its simplest, the July intensive rounds of talks, triggered by Boris Johnson’s demand to “put a tiger in the tank, turned out to be little more than dinner in Brussels one week, in London the next.

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Brexit, Data Protection, Data transfers, GDPR

The Schrems II decision and Brexit

 

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The Schrems II judgement of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) makes the transfer of personal data to the US from the EU close to legally impossible. The Court has struck down Privacy Shield as incapable of providing sufficient protection for the personal data of EU citizens transferred to the US and has severely constrained the use of Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) as an alternative way of doing so.

The Court’s judgement is rooted in the belief that there is a significant disconnect between the EU’s emphasis on data privacy as a fundamental right, and the US’s stress on the national security imperative for its intelligence agencies to be able to access data transferred to the US. (See here for a useful summary of the background to the case).

The bottom line takeaway from the CJEU’s decision is that, no matter what procedure is used, it is illegal to transfer the personal data of EU citizens to third countries if that data cannot be protected to the standards that the EU demands when it arrives in that country.

The CJEU, in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the wording of the GDPR, has prioritised data privacy over economic considerations. Whether an appropriate balance has been struck is for European politicians to decide.

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Boris Johnson, Brexit, Michel Barnier, Negotiating

“No-deal” becoming a real possibility

Barnier and Frost2

EU/UK Brexit negotiations ended last Thursday, a day earlier than planned, with both sides citing “significant disagreements”. This was the first-time face-to-face negotiations have been held since the outbreak of Covid-19, with discussions over recent months taking place by video link.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said his team had:

“engaged constructively” in a bid to “get negotiations successfully and quickly on a trajectory to reach an agreement.”

“The EU side had listened carefully to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statements in recent weeks, in particular, his request to reach a political agreement quickly, and his red lines: no role for the European Court of Justice in the UK; no obligation for the UK to continue to be bound by EU law; and an agreement on fisheries that shows Brexit makes a real difference.” Continue reading

Boris Johnson, Brexit, Michel Barnier, Trade Deals

Putting a tiger in the tank of what?

Tiger Tank

On Friday, June 12, Michael Gove, the senior UK cabinet minister in charge of the Brexit process, said on Twitter:

“I just chaired a constructive EU Joint Committee meeting with @MarosSefcovic

I formally confirmed the UK will not extend the transition period & the moment for extension has now passed. On 1 January 2021 we will take back control and regain our political & economic independence.”

Responding on behalf of the EU, Michel Barnier, said: “The EU has always been open to an extension of the transition period. At today’s Joint Committee, we took note of UK’s decision not to extend. We must now make progress on substance. To give every chance to the negotiations, we agreed to intensify talks in the next weeks and months.”

The UK left the EU legally and politically on January 31 last. The UK no longer has any role or involvement in EU governance of decision making. However, until December 31, 2020, the UK is still part of the EU’s custom union and single market, which means that there have been no disruptions to trade flows in either goods or services between the UK and the EU. It was open to the parties to extent this transition arrangement for up to a further two years, but Gove’s June 12th announcement means that this will not now happen. Continue reading