- No deal Brexit risks increase as UK-Japan trade talks stall (FT): Britain and Japan have made little progress on a new trade deal in the past 18 months, according to officials involved in the talks, with tariffs set to revert to World Trade Organization levels at the end of March unless the UK ratifies a Brexit deal. Japan has agreed to extend existing trade terms for the duration of Britain’s planned transition period with the EU — but this will not apply if the UK fails to strike a deal with Brussels. Japan is confident that it can secure better terms from the UK than it did in negotiations with the much larger EU, and is not willing to duplicate the existing treaty precisely in either a bilateral deal or in talks for the UK to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership group. “The new agreement is not just a copy-and-paste of the existing treaty,” said one Japanese official briefed on the talks. “The tariffs, rules and quotas need to be negotiated separately.”
- Guy Verhofstadt welcomes Jeremy Corbyn’s offer to Theresa May (BBC): The European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator said “cross-party co-operation is the way forward and I think I can say that we welcome also the letter that Jeremy Corbyn has written today to Mrs May to offer such a cross-party exit. It’s important now that this leads to a position in the UK that has the broadest possible majority, so that we can conclude these negotiations.” Donald Tusk is reported to have said Mr Corbyn’s proposal was a “promising way” out of the current impasse. However, MP Owen Smith has said he and “lots of other people” were considering their future in the party over what they consider Mr Corbyn’s broken promise to commit to a second referendum if he was not able to force a general election. Mr Corbyn wrote to Theresa May on Wednesday stipulating his party’s five demands for supporting a deal. These included a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union” aligned with the EU’s customs rules, but with an agreement “that includes a UK say on future EU trade deals”. The letter does not mention previous demands that any deal must deliver the “exact same benefits” that membership of the single market and customs union currently does – effectively scrapping the party’s “six tests” that had been its Brexit policy.
- May says she can get deal through with binding changes (BBC): The Prime Minister today vowed to deliver Brexit “on time” whilst also criticising Donald Tusk for his comment that those who campaigned for Brexit without a plan would be reserved “a special place in hell”. She said the language “was not helpful” and had “caused widespread dismay in the United Kingdom”, adding that he should be “focusing” on working with the UK to get a Brexit deal. Mr Tusk tweeted that there was “no breakthrough in sight” following his talks with the UK prime minister. Meanwhile Mr Juncker “underlined that the EU27 will not reopen the withdrawal agreement” in their talks, according to a joint statement released by the two sides. But he “expressed his openness” to adding words to the non-binding future relationship document – that also has to be backed by MPs – to be “more ambitious in terms of content and speed”.
- Brexit: Theresa May to meet Leo Varadkar for Brexit talks (BBC): The two will have dinner on Friday night with Mr Varadkar saying it was “not a day for negotiations” but that it was an opportunity to “share perspectives”. The BBC reported earlier in the day that there is a “very real” chance of an Irish unity poll if a no-deal Brexit occurs; however, Arlene Foster countered the idea of a unity poll referring to the Good Friday Agreement setting out “criteria for a border poll, and it hasn’t been met – therefore it will not be called”. Earlier today, Mr Varadkar travelled to Belfast to “hear the perspective of the main parties” where he said “We share common objectives to make sure that there is a deal in relation to Brexit, to avoid a hard border, and to maintain frictionless trade.”
- Lack of trade defences for no deal Brexit concerns MPs (FT): MPs have expressed concern that the UK will struggle to protect British industry from trade dumping and unfair subsidies if there is a no-deal Brexit, because a vital government agency is not yet ready and the corresponding legislation has not been passed. Angus MacNeil, chair of the trade select committee, wrote to Liam Fox, secretary of state for international trade, raising concerns that the UK’s new Trade Remedies Authority will not have full staffing in place or the necessary leadership when Brexit is due to take place on March 29. The TRA will be responsible for investigating unfair trading practices after Brexit, a task currently carried out by the EU. The authority’s chief executive designate, Claire Bassett, has only been in place for a few weeks and the new Reading-based body has so far recruited about 100 people, equivalent to three-quarters of its staff. Mr MacNeil also called on the trade secretary to publish contingency plans in case the legislation to establish the authority does not pass through parliament in time. Peers in the House of Lords voted on January 21 to shelve the trade bill, leaving the legislation in limbo.
- Farage forms new Brexit party (Guardian): A new Brexit party named The Brexit Party, supported by Nigel Farage, has been officially recognised by the Electoral Commission and is likely to win over thousands of Tory defectors, the Telegraph reports. It says it will field candidates in England, Wales, Scotland and Europe. The party leader is former Ukip candidate, Catherine Blaiklock. Nigel Farage said “the engine is running” and he stood “ready for battle”.
- Ex-head of Civil Service calls for fresh referendum (Guardian): Bob Kerslake, a former head of the civil service, has urged the government to rule out a no-deal Brexit, saying ministers had the power to do so and thereby end the uncertainty that is gripping business and local government services. Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Lord Kerslake also called for a fresh referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, which he admitted might take as long as a year to organise. However, Mr Kerslake suggested no other options remained, adding “Where else do we go?”.
- May says she can get deal through with binding changes – Theresa May has told EU leaders she can get the Brexit deal through Parliament if they give her legally-binding changes to it. The UK prime minister – who also vowed to deliver Brexit “on time” – was speaking after a series of meetings with top EU officials in Brussels. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker again ruled out the kind of changes Mrs May wants to see. But the two sides agreed to further talks to break the deadlock. Mrs May said she had also spoken to European Council President Donald Tusk about his comments on Wednesday about there being a “special place in hell” for those who campaigned for Brexit without a plan to deliver it safely. She said Mr Tusk’s language “was not helpful” and had “caused widespread dismay in the United Kingdom”. Mrs May said she had told him he should be “focusing” on working with the UK to get a Brexit deal. Mr Tusk tweeted that there was “no breakthrough in sight” following his talks with the UK prime minister. (BBC)
- Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit plan ‘promising’, Donald Tusk tells Theresa May – The EU’s Donald Tusk has told Theresa May that Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit plan offers a “promising way out” of the current Brexit stalemate, according to Sky sources. It comes after the Labour leader set out his five demands for backing the government in a letter to the prime minister, including establishing a customs union with the EU and alignment with the bloc’s single market. Regarding his Brexit plan, Mr Corbyn said: “Surely that’s a basis on which there could well be a majority in parliament… there could well be agreement with the European Union. Which means that we have an intelligent and dynamic relationship with Europe in the future. We don’t move into the problems of going out of the European Union with no agreement and the disaster that would be for many manufacturing industries.” (Sky News)
- Brexit deal may not be put to MPs until late March, officials say – After strained talks on Thursday, during which Donald Tusk suggested that Jeremy Corbyn’s plan could help resolve the Brexit crisis, Theresa May and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, agreed to hold the next face-to-face talks by the end of February. But officials believe it is increasingly likely that any renegotiated deal will only be put to the Commons at the end of March, necessitating even then an extension of the article 50 negotiating period to get legislation through parliament. On Thursday the German finance commissioner, Günther Hermann Oettinger, suggested the chance of a no-deal Brexit was now as high as 60%. (The Guardian)
- No-deal Brexit: UK exporters risk being locked out of world’s harbours – British exporters sending goods to far-flung destinations in the coming days risk being locked out of harbours around the world as a no-deal Brexit looms, business leaders have warned. Independent trade experts and the UK’s biggest business groups said exporters could be dispatching goods from UK ports imminently that would not arrive until after the 29 March deadline. This raised the prospect of goods being stuck in ports or facing hefty additional costs in the event of a disorderly Brexit. The warning came as the Bank of England warned the UK economy was on course for its weakest year since the global financial crisis, as evidence suggested Brexit jitters were spreading. (The Guardian)
- UK draws up secret plan to boost economy after no-deal Brexit – A secret group at the heart of the UK government is drawing up plans to kick-start the British economy in the event of a no-deal Brexit through options that range from cutting taxes and boosting investment to slashing tariffs. The plan, dubbed “Project After” by some ministers, is being marshalled by Mark Sedwill, who as cabinet secretary is head of the civil service. It has brought together senior figures from the Cabinet Office, the Treasury, the business department and the international trade department, in close contact with the Bank of England. Although the project has been mentioned at cabinet meetings in recent weeks its existence has not been made public. “It’s basically a Doomsday list of economic levers we could pull if the economy is about to tank,” said one Whitehall figure. (FT)
- Budget cuts threaten Ramsgate ferry plan – A decision is due on budget cuts that could prevent Ramsgate reopening as a ferry port to ease pressure on other routes in the case of a no-deal Brexit. The Government handed Seaborne Freight a £13.8m contract to run a service to Ostend, in Belgium, under contingency plans to alleviate any delays at Dover. But the local council is considering cuts to port spending that would make roll-on, roll-off services impossible. Thanet councillors in Kent will vote on the proposed £630,000 cuts later. The council has been pumping money into the port to keep it in a state of readiness for ferry operations. (BBC)
- Bank of England governor warns no-deal Brexit could cause recession –On growth, the Bank of England now expects UK GDP to only rise by 1.2% this year, down from 1.7%. That would be the weakest growth since 2009, when Britain was reeling from the financial crisis. Most of the damage will be done in the first half of 2019. If Britain secures a soft Brexit, growth could then pick up – perhaps faster than the Bank expects. Governor Carney warned: “The fog of Brexit is causing short term volatility in the economic data, and more fundamentally, it is creating a series of tensions in the economy, tensions for business.” (The Guardian – Live Stream)
Business expresses fury at UK failure to roll over EU trade deals (FT): Confidential briefing hears government cannot guarantee rollover of most current EU FTAs. The DIT told 30 business representatives on Wednesday that, while trade agreements with Switzerland, Israel and some African nations would be wrapped up before Brexit, there was no certainty that other deals Brussels has with countries around the world could be rolled over or duplicated in time. The UK has argued that provisions in its draft withdrawal agreement with the EU say that Britain should continue to enjoy the benefits as well as the obligations of trade deals with third parties during the post-Brexit transition period. Brussels has also said that, under the terms of the deal, it will “notify” other countries that Britain should continue to be treated as if it is still an EU member state during the transition. However, it is up to individual countries outside the EU to agree to this approach.
Liam Fox says zero tariffs a ‘possibility’ in no-deal Brexit (FT): Liam Fox said on Wednesday there was a “possibility” the UK government might cut tariffs to zero to help keep trade flowing if there was a no-deal Brexit. But the International Trade Secretary insisted the move would have to be a collective government decision — and that he personally had always been against full tariff liberalisation because of the impact it would have on sectors of the UK economy. Senior cabinet ministers are meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss their policy on tariffs under a no-deal scenario. It is understood that the cabinet subcommittee, which includes figures such as Mr Fox and chancellor Philip Hammond, will consider four scenarios — ranging from total liberalisation to WTO terms to a “pick and mix” approach. Ministers are expected to choose the last scenario, which would involve zero tariffs on imports in some sectors — but not in others.
May departs Northern Ireland no closer to backstop deal (Guardian): Theresa May has failed to rally Northern Ireland support behind her quest for a Brexit deal, as nationalist and unionist parties further entrenched their positions for and against the backstop as she ended a two-day visit to Belfast. The Ulster Unionist party (UUP) urged the prime minister to introduce direct rule government for Northern Ireland if no Brexit deal can be agreed – anathema to republicans. Sinn Féin, which supports the backstop, issued a harsh rebuff to May, saying she lacked credibility and was hostage to the DUP support at Westminster. It called for a referendum on Irish unity. May is scheduled to visit Dublin on Friday for what are likely to be tense talks with the Irish government.
Labour: only ‘sensible’ option to delay Brexit by extending article 50 (Guardian): Labour has urged the government to either delay Brexit, embrace a customs union or let MPs decide a way forward, during a prime minister’s questions fronted by stand-ins for Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. With May holding talks in Northern Ireland, David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister and de facto deputy prime minister, appeared in her place. Standing in for Corbyn was Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary. After questioning Lidington about when MPs would next get a meaningful vote on any Brexit plan, Thornberry said it appeared this would happen only if and when May secured concessions on the backstop from the EU.
Not opposing Brexit could lose Labour 45 seats, says leaked report (Guardian): A trade union affiliated with the Labour party has claimed that Jeremy Corbyn’s party could lose an additional 45 seats in a snap election if it fails to take an anti-Brexit position, in a leaked report. The report, drawn up by the transport union TSSA and including extensive polling, was sent to the leftwing pressure group Momentum. It appears to be an attempt to pile pressure on the Labour leader over Brexit. says that the party’s supporters view Brexit as a “Tory project”. It adds that four-fifths of them believe the current deal will hurt the British economy and 91.4% of Labour voters do not trust the government to deliver a good Brexit for people such as them. The report concludes: “If there is an election in 2019, Labour will get a lower share of the vote in every seat in the country if it has a pro-Brexit policy than if it has an anti-Brexit position.”
Pro-second vote MPs hold their fire until after May’s Brussels trip (Guardian): The Lib Dem leader, Sir Vince Cable, has sent a message to activists, explaining “there is still everything to play for”, and “the People’s Vote is alive and well” – but his party does not plan to table a referendum amendment yet. Campaigners believe that, with less than 50 days to go until exit day on 29 March, they would still fall short of commanding a majority among MPs if they attempted to force the issue of a referendum now. Instead, they plan to wait and see what if any changes to the backstop the prime minister manages to secure from her diplomatic offensive in Dublin and Brussels.
The UK Government has over 10,000 civil servants currently preparing for Brexit. Whilst the terms of Brexit remain uncertain, the Government is nevertheless pushing forward with proposals to make necessary legal changes. Below is a summary of the changes to the UK’s product liability and safety laws that will potentially be implemented on the day of Brexit.
A draft statutory instrument amending UK product liability and safety laws has been put before Parliament for approval. The ‘Product Safety and Metrology etc. (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019’ (the “SI“), once approved, is due to come into force on the day of Brexit. A copy is available here.
The SI will ensure that current EU requirements relating to product safety and labelling, as implemented into UK law, are amended in a manner which will apply to products on the market in the UK once the UK is no longer in the EU. The 35 Schedules in the SI set out amendments to each UK law governing particular types of products or risks. Changes to the Consumer Protection Act (the “CPA“) and the General Product Safety Regulations (the “GPSR“) are also covered. Certain EU obligations are retained and these are set out in Part 5 of the SI.
The amendments introduced by the SI are not controversial and largely follow an ‘EU format’ but with a UK focus. That said, changes to compliance processes will need to be implemented to ensure that UK products have UK markings and the relevant UK guidance and processes are followed where there is a question over product safety.