The UK is now in the transition period of exiting the European Union. This means the current rules on trade, travel and business between the UK and the EU apply while negotiating a trade deal. The transition period will end on 31 January 2021.
The third round of negotiations was conducted in May. An urgent question asked at the conclusion of those talks revealed that the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove, believed there was a "difference of principle".
The fourth round of negotiations ended last week. Shadow Minister, Rachel Reeves, asked Mr Gove for a statement on the progress made.
Penny Mordaunt: "no movement" on differences of principle
Representing the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Paymaster Penny Mordaunt said the talks covered trade in goods and services, fisheries, law enforcement, criminal justice and other issues. She told the House that "full and constructive discussions" were had via video conference.
However, Ms Mordaunt also stated that there was no progression on issues where "differences of principle are at their most acute", which she described as "fisheries, governance arrangements and the so-called level playing field".
The Minister said that it was the UK was at an "important moment" in these negotiations, and that the deal needed to be agreed "in good time" to ensure people and business had "certainty", while accommodating the UK's position on the difficult issues outlined above.
She said that she and Mr Gove will be at the second meeting of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee this coming Friday, where more information would be given, and emphasised that the Government would not seek an extension period for negotiating the deal.
The Minister stated:
"We will not be extending the transition period, and will push the EU on implementing its obligations under the terms of the agreement."
Rachel Reeves: "we are in the dark"
Responding on behalf of the Opposition, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, Rachel Reeves, said the public and businesses were "in the dark" about what the deal may look like.
She stated that trade unions were concerned about the "impact of chaos and uncertainty on jobs and livelihoods". Ms Reeves added that the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry was worried about the stockpile of medicines used up during Covid-19 and that "cannot be rebuilt" by the end of this year. She also quoted The Road Haulage Association's statement that they are "still missing the essential practical information on all new processes and procedures”.
Ms Reeves asked the Minister for "clarity", and sought assurances that, as stated by the Government in December, there will be "no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors", that workers' rights will be safeguarded, that there will be a "broad, comprehensive" security partnership and that the Good Friday Agreement will be respected.
The Shadow Minister concluded:
"We urge both sides to redouble their efforts over the next few days and weeks to ensure that progress is made by the end of this month."
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