UK ‘definitive’ on Brexit date despite Scottish protests
Michael Gove sent a “definitive” message to Brussels that EU law will cease to apply in the UK on 1 January 2021, whether a trade deal has been agreed or not.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said “the moment for extension has now passed” despite Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford warning the move would lead to “avoidable” business closures and redundancies.
It came as figures for April confirmed UK GDP fell by 20 per cent, the deepest one-month drop on record, with the full economic impact of the coronavirus lockdown now being felt in official statistics.
Analysts have also warned that up to 10 per cent of the UK workforce could be unemployed by the end of the year, with the Treasury revealing this week that a third of Scottish workers were either on furlough or being paid income support by the UK government. In a concession to the looming economic crisis, Mr Gove scrapped plans to immediately introduce full import controls on EU goods in the new year, saying the UK would now phase in changes over six months so businesses have the “time to adjust”.
But his announcement came hours after the Scottish and Welsh First Ministers called for an extension to trade talks, warning Boris Johnson that “the end of this year is the worst possible time to end the transition period”.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford said: “While we hope that the end of this year will see the beginnings of a recovery, we believe that exiting the transition period at the end of the year would be extraordinarily reckless. No-one could reproach the UK government for changing its position in the light of the wholly unforeseeable Covid crisis, particularly as the EU has made it clear it is open to an extension request.”
Boris Johnson has insisted the transition phase will end on schedule, even if it means trading with the EU on WTO terms that impose tariffs and trade barriers on British businesses.
The Prime Minister will hold a face-to-face video conference with the presidents of the EU on Monday in a bid to break the deadlock in trade talks. But analysts and senior business figures have voiced growing scepticism that a deal can be done in the remaining six months. With fishing rights one of the key sticking points
Mr Gove held a video conference with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic, with the Cabinet Office later announcing the UK would adopt a “flexible and pragmatic approach” that would see border checks between Britain and the EU introduced in three stages.
From January, tariffs will need to be paid on all imports and traders importing standard goods must prepare for basic custom requirements and will have up to six months to complete customs declarations. From April, meat, dairy and other animal and regulated plant products will require pre-notification and relevant health documentation. In July 2021, traders will have to make declarations at the point of importation and pay tariffs.
The Cabinet Office said the approach does not apply to Northern Ireland, which is covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, and that a £50m support package would boost the capacity of customs intermediaries.
Following the meeting, Mr Sefcovic told a briefing in Brussels that the EU “remains open to such an extension”, but said Mr Gove had been “very clear, unequivocal” that the UK will not seek one “so we take this decision as a definitive one”.
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