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On 24 April 2020, following the delayed second round of talks on the future UK-EU relationship, EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier gave a statement. In the remarks, Mr Barnier acknowledged the grave circumstances and collective responsibility to focus on tackling the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. However, with the clock ticking on the Brexit transition period, and with the EU taking note of the UK's refusal to extend the timeline, tangible substantive progress is essential. The priority workstreams summarised by Mr Barnier include: ensuring full implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, preparing for the negative economic consequences that the end of transition will entail and negotiating a future partnership agreement to limit those consequences. The EU has called for serious engagement from the UK on these parallel workstreams, based on the principles and objectives agreed in the Political Declaration.
There are two further rounds of talks on the future relationship (scheduled in the weeks commencing 11 May and 1 June 2020). Meanwhile, there is also a meeting of the Specialised Committee on the Northern Ireland Protocol scheduled for 30 April 2020. While separate to his talks, Mr Barnier noted that urgent progress on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement (and in particular the Northern Ireland Protocol) is also central to the ongoing future relationship negotiations. On this point, Mr Barnier said: 'We need clear evidence that the UK is advancing with the introduction of the agreed customs procedures for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain. We need clear evidence that the UK will be able to carry out all necessary sanitary and phytosanitary controls, as well as other regulatory checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from outside the EU as of January 2021, in 8 months' time.'
The High Level Conference in June will take stock of progress in these workstreams. Meanwhile, Mr Barnier recommended all sides work hard towards 'real, tangible progress' across all the priority areas highlighted, while also thinking carefully about the question of extension:
'In recent days, the UK government has made clear that it would refuse any extension of the transition period. We take note of this choice. My recommendation is therefore that we work hard until June and think carefully about our joint response to this question of extension, taking into account the economic situation and the consequences of our decisions. Right now though, the consequence of the United Kingdom's decision is that the clock is ticking.'
For further details, see: LNB News 24/04/2020 74.
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