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Sterling below 8-month highs as Brexit talks drag



Diplomats said talks in Brussels on Tuesday led by British Prime Minister Theresa May’s chief lawyer, Geoffrey Cox, failed to find common ground with barely over three weeks to go before Britain’s scheduled departure on March 29.

Further adding to the uncertainty was an amendment passed by Britain’s House of Lords on Wednesday calling for the government to negotiate a customs union with the European Union, giving May a potential new headache in her Brexit plans.

“Markets are getting conflicting signals from lawmakers in Britain and the negative news flow from Brussels on the negotiation process and that is keeping the pound in a tight range,” said Nikolay Markov, a senior economist at Pictet Asset Management.

The pound was broadly steady at 1.3168 dollar and just below an eight-month high of 1.3351 dollar last week. Against the euro, it was broadly steady at 85.90 pence.

Most economists in a Reuters’ poll thought Brexit would be delayed by a few months and the two sides would eventually agree a free-trade deal, according to the Reuters’ poll  conducted between Feb.28 and March 5.



Britain, EU start fourth round of trade talks for post-Brexit era




Britain and the European Union are scheduled to start a fourth round of talks on a post-Brexit trade deal on Tuesday.

Negotiators from London and Brussels will engage in intensive talks over the coming week via video link.

Previous rounds of talks in April and May ended in a stalemate, with London and Brussels blaming each other for the lack of progress.

The future of fishing rights off the coast of the British Isles is expected to be one of the key agenda topics during the four days of talks, involving hundreds of negotiators from both sides.

Four separate sessions on fishing rights are scheduled, more than any other single topic.

A closing plenary session Friday will reveal the extent of any progress made during the week.

The Guardian in London Tuesday described fishing as a drop in the ocean of the UK economy, representing just 0.12 percent of economic output, adding the issue has become one of the most intractable in the Brexit talks.

Britain ended its EU membership on Jan. 31 but continues to follow Brussels’ rules under a transition period lasting until Dec. 31.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted Britain will not seek to extend the transition period beyond the end of this year.

The talks this week will be the last before Johnson attends a critical high-level meeting with EU leaders later in June to evaluate what progress has been made during the negotiations.


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London mayor urges Britain to extend Brexit transition



London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, on Monday urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to extend the transition period for Britain to negotiate post-Brexit arrangements with the European Union.

Khan asked Johnson’s cabinet chief and lead minister for Brexit, Michael Gove, to “put political ideology aside” and extend negotiations with Brussels, which are due to resume on Tuesday.

“The last thing our country needs as we try to find a way forward from this pandemic is more chaos and uncertainty.

“I’ve urged the government to put political ideology aside and pursue the pragmatic route of seeking an extension to Brexit negotiations,’’ opposition Labour politician Khan tweeted.

Britain formally left the bloc on January 31 after a slim majority voted for Brexit in a 2016 referendum.

Little has changed during a planned 11-month transition that Johnson has vowed not to extend, in spite of a lack of progress in talks that have been overshadowed by the coronavirus crisis.

EU chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, told the Sunday Times that Britain had failed to meet its commitments to the negotiations on future trade and other arrangements.

“London had taken a step back, two steps back, three steps back, from the original commitments.

The UK negotiators need to be fully in line with what Johnson signed up to with us,’’ Barnier added, referring to a joint declaration on the principles of future relations.

Johnson and Gove have suggested they would accept a “no deal” Brexit if London and Brussels cannot agree on new trade rules by Dec. 31.

Edited By: Abiodun Oluleye/Ejike Obeta (NAN)

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No Brexit breakthrough expected at next set of talks, EU adviser says



The European Union and Britain are likely to have to engage in accelerated Brexit talks over the summer because no one expects a breakthrough at the next round of talks.

An adviser to the EU’s chief trade negotiator, Michel Barnier, said on Friday.

“I’m not so optimistic about Round 4, hopefully we make some progress, it won’t be a breakthrough,’’ Stefaan de Rynck told an online event organised by the Institute For Government.

“Let’s assume there is no extension or transition, which is what the UK government’s position is, and then we come to July 1.

“ We will have to negotiate over the summer. It will have to happen at an accelerated pace.’’

He added that both sides should work at all costs to prevent Britain leaving without a future trade deal.

Edited By: Halima Sheji (NAN)



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Post Brexit: Britain says EU is offering ‘relatively low quality’ trade agreement



The European Union is offering Britain a “relatively low quality” trade agreement, chief British negotiator David Frost said in a letter to his European Union counterpart Michel Barnier on Tuesday.

Britain left the EU at the end of January and is now seeking to negotiate a free trade deal with the bloc.

Talks have reached an impasse however, with both sides trading barbs before a crunch meeting next month.

The British government published its draft legal texts for an agreement on Tuesday.

While they had previously been shared with the EU team, Britain said it was making them public as a “constructive contribution to the negotiations”.

In a letter published alongside the texts, Frost said Britain had drawn on precedent in recent agreements between the EU and other countries.

Brussels has argued a wider deal is needed to take into account Britain’s proximity to the bloc.

“We find it perplexing that the EU, instead of seeking to settle rapidly a high-quality set of agreements with a close economic partner, is instead insisting on additional, unbalanced, and unprecedented provisions in a range of areas, as a precondition for agreement between us,” Frost wrote.

“What is on offer is not a fair free-trade relationship between close economic partners, but a relatively low-quality trade agreement coming with unprecedented EU oversight of our laws and institutions.”

Frost said he remained convinced it would be “very straightforward” to come to an agreement quickly.

The two sides have given themselves until the end of June to assess progress and decide whether to extend negotiations beyond the end of 2020, something Britain has so far refused to do.


Edited By: Isaac Aregbesola (NAN)


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UK unveils new post-Brexit tariff regime




The British government announced on Tuesday a new tariff regime to replace European Union’s (EU) common external tariff after the Brexit transition period comes to an end this year.

Starting on Jan. 1, 2021, the UK Global Tariff ensures that 60 percent of trade will come into Britain tariff free on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms or through existing preferential access, and successful free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations will increase this, the Department for International Trade said in a statement.

The new tariff is tailored to the needs of the British economy. It will be in pounds not euros, the department said.

Under the new regime, the government will streamline or simplify tariffs on more than 6,000 products, including getting rid of all “nuisance tariffs” (those below 2 percent), to lower costs for businesses and increase choice for consumers, it said.

It said tariffs will be cut on over 100 products to promote a sustainable economy, with thermostats, LED lamps among others dropping to zero tariffs.

The government promises to extend the temporary zero tariff rate for personal protective equipment, medical devices and other key items from non-EU countries to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic beyond Jan. 1 should it be necessary, the department said.

The government will back agriculture, automotive and fishing in the country by maintaining tariffs on agricultural products such as lamb, beef and poultry, a 10 percent tariff on cars, as well as tariffs for the vast majority of ceramic products.

The British government counts on successful FTA negotiations to expand tariff free trade. It is currently in talks with the EU and the United States, and has announced negotiating objectives for talks with Japan.

However, hopes of Britain securing a permanent post-Brexit trade deal with the EU hit a major stumbling block on Friday when the latest round of bilateral talks ended. It leaves both sides with just six weeks to reach an agreement before a deadline for a decision to be made on extending the transition period beyond Dec. 31. If they fail to reach a deal by then, trade will be carried out on WTO terms.


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Hopes of post-Brexit trade deal dimming as fresh round of talks end




Hopes of Britain securing a permanent post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union (EU) hit a major stumbling block on Friday when the latest round of bilateral talks ended.

Angry words were traded by chief Brexit negotiators from London and Brussels at the end of a third round of high-level talks, conducted virtually through cross Channel video links.

It leaves both sides with just six weeks to reach an agreement before a deadline for a decision to be made on extending the transition period beyond Dec. 31.

With just one further round of talks remaining, scheduled to start June 1, political commentators were asking Friday night whether it was time for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to enter the fray in a bid to break the deadlock.

What is at stake is whether Britain will have a new trading agreement in place by January, or will trade by both sides be forced to follow WTO (World Trade Organization) export and import rules.

Johnson has continually insisted Britain will not seek an extension to the so-called implementation period under which the country is following EU rules while talks continue.

The first salvo in the latest trading of angry words came from Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost.

After this week’s round of intensive negotiations concluded Friday, he said: “I regret that we made very little progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues between us.”

“The major obstacle is the EU’s insistence on including a set of novel and unbalanced proposals on the so-called ‘level playing field’ which would bind this country to EU law or standards, or determine our domestic legal regimes, in a way that is unprecedented in Free Trade Agreements and not envisaged in the Political Declaration,” Frost added.

Hurtling a gauntlet at Brussels, Frost said: “As soon as the EU recognises that Britain will not conclude an agreement on that basis, both sides will be able to make progress.”

Harsh words also emerged from Brussels, with EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier saying: “There seems to be a real lack of understanding regarding the objective mechanical consequences of the British choice to leave.”

He bounced back an EU gauntlet, saying: “The UK will have to be more realistic. It will have to move beyond this lack of understanding.”

In Brussels, Barnier told reporters the latest round of talks had been very disappointing, saying he was not optimistic about the outcome.

Holding out hope of a breakthrough at some stage, Frost said “The UK will continue to work hard to find an agreement, for as long as there is a constructive process in being, and continues to believe that this is possible.”

The verbal clashes prompted the Daily Telegraph in London to describe the situation as a game of chicken.

The Telegraph said British and EU Brexit heavyweights traded blows in public for the first time today and revealed the parlous state of the deadlocked trade negotiations between London and Brussels.

The paper’s commentary said if Britain does not agree a free trade deal with the EU by October, which would allow ratification of the agreement before Dec. 31, it will be forced to trade on WTO terms only with its major trading partner.

The Guardian also suggested that Johnson may have to fight Britain’s corner.

“There is now a working assumption on the UK side that it will take a summit between Johnson and the commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, in mid-June to break the impasse,” Guardian reported.

Meanwhile Johnson held talks with his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar, discussing both Brexit and the UK and Ireland’s approaches to tackling coronavirus.

Downing Street said the two leaders spoke about the latest round of UK-EU negotiations.

“The Prime Minister said the UK will continue to work hard to reach an agreement and continues to believe that this is possible,” said an official spokesperson for Number 10.


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London, EU continue post-Brexit trade deal talks




The third round of negotiations to seek a permanent post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and the European Union (EU) got underway Monday.

Negotiators are conducting intensive week-long discussions using video links between London and Brussels because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fresh round of talks started against a background of disappointment expressed by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier at the conclusion of the previous round of talks last month.

Britain is currently in an implementation period after ending its membership in the bloc on Jan. 31.

A race is now on to make a significant breakthrough before the end of June, the deadline set for a decision to be made on whether to seek an extension of the current implementation period due to expire on Dec. 31.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted he will not extend Britain’s links to the bloc beyond the end of this year.

Over the weekend, Johnson held talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, mainly discussing the COVID-19 crisis.

In London, the Daily Express reported Monday that Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost would issue a fresh warning to Barnier, saying progress must be made on the deadlocked trade talks this month because the British government will not seek to delay them.

The report said Downing Street’s planned rejection of an extension beyond Dec. 31 was fuelled by fears Britain could be locked into swathes of EU coronavirus pandemic legislation.

While Barnier expressed his disappointment on April 24 at the progress in the previous round of talks, Downing Street said limited progress had been made, adding talks needed to move forward in a constructive fashion.

Downing Street confirmed Monday talks were being held and will continue through the week.

A Downing Street spokesperson said, “As the EU looks to deal with the impacts of coronavirus on the 27 member states, they will need to propose all kinds of new legislation which will obviously be designed for the 27, rather than being tailored in a way to suit the interests of the UK. An extension to the transition period would bind us into future EU legislation, without us having any say in designing it.”


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U.S., UK launch video trade talks, pledge quick work in post-Brexit era



The U.S. and Britain on Tuesday launched the first round of negotiations for a free trade agreement, with their trade representatives pledging to work quickly online to reach a deal that will “significantly boost trade and investment.”

The talks, to be conducted virtually, will involve over 300 U.S. and UK staff and officials in nearly 30 negotiating groups, U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, and UK Trade Minister, Liz Truss, said in a joint statement.

“We will undertake negotiations at an accelerated pace and have committed the resources necessary to progress at a fast pace,’’ they said.

“A Free Trade Agreement would contribute to the long-term health of our economies, which is vitally important as we recover from the challenges posed by COVID-19,’’ the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

It will be Washington’s first major new trade negotiation in 2020.

London has also been working out trade terms with the European Union following its exit from the block in January.

Both countries are trying to shore up domestic supply chains as they grapple with the effects of the coronavirus crisis.

Lighthizer has named the UK trade talk one of the Trump administration’s top priorities for 2020.

He published objectives more than a year ago that sought full access for U.S. agricultural products and reduced tariffs for U.S. manufactured goods.

Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said he hopes a trade deal with the UK lays the groundwork for an improved deal with the EU.

“All I’m hoping to do is if we get a good deal with the UK on agriculture, it’s going to embarrass Europe,’’ Grassley told reporters on a conference call.

The Trump administration is looking to shift supply chains back to the U.S. and away from China, where the novel coronavirus originated and is pushing a “Buy American” campaign for medical and other supplies.

Agriculture is expected to be among the thorniest issues in the talks, given the strong British opposition to the U.S. genetically modified crops and antibacterial treatments for poultry.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to drive a “hard bargain” and Truss has said that Britain would not diminish its food safety standards.

The top American business lobby, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on Monday urged the two historic allies to eliminate all tariffs, saying that would boost the long-term outlook for both countries at a time when their economies have been hard hit by shutdowns aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

The chamber said the two countries also could strengthen global trade rules to deal with challenges posed by non-market economies such as China.

Trade in goods between the U.S. and UK was valued at $127.1 billion in 2018, with the two sides roughly in balance, while the services trade topped $134.8 billion. Britain is the seventh-largest U.S. goods trading partner, after South Korea, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Ted Bromund, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, said one area ripe for tariff reduction was in the automotive trade, Britain’s largest export sector to the U.S.

The U.S. passenger car tariffs are 2.5 per cent, with pickup truck tariffs at 25 per cent, while Britain maintains a 10 per cent car tariff.

Truss said a trade deal would make it even easier for the two allies to do business “across the pond’’.

“We want to strike an ambitious deal that opens up new opportunities for our businesses, brings in more investment and creates better jobs for people across the whole of the country,’’ she said in the joint statement.

An opening plenary kicked off the negotiations on Tuesday, to be followed by multiple virtual meetings from May 6 to May 15.

Further rounds of talks will take place approximately every six weeks and will be carried out remotely until it is safe to travel, the UK embassy said.

Grassley said he thinks the talks will be more difficult via video conference.

“It seems to me it’s not as quite good as sitting across the table from them,’’ he said.


Edited By: Abdulfatah Babatunde (NAN)

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Roundup: COVID-19 and Brexit dominate PM’s Questions at UK parliament




COVID-19 and Brexit dominated Prime Minister’s Questions in Britain’s House of Commons on Wednesday.

Boris Johnson was busy attending the birth of his son, putting affairs of state to one side for a few hours, and missing the weekly battle with opposition politicians during Prime Minister’s Questions.

With the new-born and his fiancee Carrie Symonds both doing well, Johnson was back to frontline politics at 10 Downing Street for a top-level meeting, by telephone, with the newly appointed main opposition leader, Labour’s Keir Starmer. No details were released about what they said.

Johnson returned to his job at Number 10 this week after winning a life-threatening battle with COVID-19 which saw him in a hospital intensive care unit.

Political commentators were left guessing when Number 10 declined to say whether he would be at the dispatch box for his weekly encounter during the PM’s Questions session.

The announcement he had been at the birth of his son at a London hospital explained his absence from the weekly political war of words in the Commons chamber. Johnson’s office later announced that he would not be taking paternity leave at the moment so as to concentrate on the COVID-19 crisis.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, designated as First Secretary to deputize for Johnson, faced questions from Starmer about Britain’s response to coronavirus.

Ian Blackford, the Scottish National Party’s leader at Westminster, accused the Conservative government of gambling Britain’s economic future with a no-deal Brexit in the middle of a health emergency.

“Why is the government threatening to isolate our economy at the end of the year during the biggest economic crisis of our time?” he asked Raab.

Blackford was referring to the British government’s insistence that despite the pandemic, it plans to end a year-long transition period with the European Union (EU) by Dec. 31, with or without a permanent trade deal.

Negotiators from Britain and the EU have completed the first of the three-week long sessions to seek a deal before June when the deadline for an extension beyond the end of this year is reached.

Blackford added: “We are two months away from the deadline for approving an extension to the Brexit negotiations. Michel Barnier (the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator) has been clear: the UK is refusing to engage seriously on a number of fundamental issues.”

Raab said he has worked extremely closely with German, French and all other EU partners, adding: “we should focus on removing any additional uncertainty, do a deal by the end of the year and allow the UK and the EU and all its member states to bounce back as we come through coronavirus.”

“The First Secretary’s failure to rule out a no-deal Brexit should alarm us all,” Blackford told MPs, listening in the chamber and in their homes, with most MPs linked to the chamber by computer.

Starmer meanwhile zoomed in on coronavirus, and referred to latest figures of fatalities from coronavirus, which showed a higher number than the daily level of hospital deaths quoted by the government.

The numbers now include people who have died in care homes and in the community, adding the figure to over 27,000 which he said was probably an underestimate.

He said the latest data shows numbers of deaths in care homes appear to have been rising even while the numbers of hospital deaths have been falling.

Raab outlined challenges in care homes, including exercising control over the ebb and flow of people into care homes. “That is the single-biggest challenge in reducing transmission,” said Raab.

Political and health commentators were speculating Wednesday that the level of deaths in care homes in Britain could soon overtake hospital deaths.

Raab added: “It is a challenge we must and can grip in order to get the numbers down in care homes, as has happened in hospitals and the country at large.”


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