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The UK’s Balancing Act: Circular Brexit Negotiations and the COVID Pandemic

Countries around the world have suffered great economic losses this year as a direct impact of the COVID-19 pandemic with the United Kingdom being no exception. Amidst the state’s worst economic recession in centuries, it must manage both the mitigation of the pandemic and the imminence of Brexit which is scheduled for January 1 2021 with or without a deal. Preoccupied with coordinating a national response to the pandemic, the UK could face further economic devastation if it remains unwilling to resolve legal issues with the European Union before the beginning of 2021.

Stuck in negotiations regarding fishing rights, government company aid packages, and avenues for future dispute resolution, the UK has remained hard-headed towards the EU and is reluctant to concede these rights in the name of state sovereignty. Despite the several years that have passed since the Brexit referendum, it is clear that there are many more topics to be addressed if the UK and the EU are to strike a cooperative deal. As the end of 2020, and the Brexit date, near, the distinct lack of an all-encompassing deal means a no-deal Brexit will likely be a reality.

Navigating the legal challenges between the EU and the UK has become infinitely more difficult as more focus has been placed on the countries’ respective citizen safety and response programmes during the pandemic. Competition between states to provide a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 and protect their populations has continued to make their unsteady relationship more tentative. Additionally, trade talks that were underway throughout November have been put on hold while a negotiator on the team recovers from a positive COVID-19 test result. The past six months of continued negotiations have addressed several key issues, many of which are yet to have reached a compromise.

This lack of agreement can be illustrated rather plainly through the negotiations between the UK and the EU’s claims to fishing rights: both sides have argued for their right to fish in international waters, further complicating border disputes and respect for the one another’s sovereignty. This makes a no-deal Brexit entirely possible in the coming month.

Without the presence of any formal trade deal, the UK must rely on World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) rules, which means an increase in tariffs on imports and exports as well as customs checks. It is likely that businesses within the UK which also have presences in Central Europe will face additional costs whilst undertaking deals. They will likely also come up against challenges when coordinating their relationship with European branches. Uncertainties in the trade sector could lead to further economic devastation for both, in addition to the turmoil caused by the pandemic. Because of this fear of economic disaster, the UK and the US have been pressured into finalising a post-Brexit trade deal which addresses remaining concerns.

Both parties are incredibly eager to reach a deal so as to maintain the historical and incredibly important relationship between the UK and Central Europe. This is essential to maintaining travel flexibility and the survival of the trade routes.

It is now crunch time for the UK and the EU to mitigate the outstanding issues of EU fishing rights in UK waters, mutually-agreed competition rules, and how to govern a deal. This also includes outlines for managing any disputes that may arise as a result of defection from said agreements.

Despite this apparent need to reach a deal to protect the UK and subsequently Europe, from a further economic downturn, it is not exactly clear how a deal (if eventually reached before 31 December) would be brought into effect in the UK. This adds another legal hurdle for the state to address before the end of the month.

On the whole, the potential for a distinct lack of a Brexit deal is entirely plausible as the deadline quickly approaches. This has the ability to economically devastate both parties, when coupled with the after-effects of the pandemic. Regardless of a “no-deal Brexit”, or one with completely negotiated terms, the future of international law and relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union will forever be changed.


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