Engagement in a post-Brexit world: Five key takeaways01 December 2020 - by Matthew Jackson
We’ve seen deadlines come and go before. Brexit observers will remember only too well the high-noon deadlines of EU summits, extensions, ‘flextensions’ (remember those?) and various attempts to both ‘intensify’ and ‘dedramatise’ negotiations, that dominated late 2018 and much of 2019.
This time around, and a health pandemic later, the UK Government’s decision not to seek an extension to the transition period earlier this year means 31 December really is a hard stop. The UK will become a third country on 1 January.
Negotiations to reach a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) are now in the final act. Any deal will have to be agreed by the Cabinet on the UK side, while EU leaders and the European Parliament must go through a more extensive ratification process, with the continued impasse deepening suspicions on the EU side that the UK is trying to run down the clock to force concessions.
All eyes now turn to the EU Council Meeting scheduled for the 10-11 December and European Parliament plenary from 14-17 December as the next indicative deadline. And with suggestions of a vote on 28 December on the EU side and even provisional implementation of an FTA on 1 January ahead of future vote early next year, it promises to be a busy, if uncertain, festive period.
A change in mandate alongside political intervention may be required to find agreement on the remaining hurdles, which may see key leaders such as Macron and Merkel step in for discussions with Boris Johnson in the coming days and weeks. Perhaps we may indeed see the ‘oven ready’ deal after all just in time for Christmas.
With so much to do, and so little time, this doesn’t provide the much needed reassurance to businesses and organisations set to be impacted by the implications of the imminent change that will see divergence from EU legislation and regulations in five weeks’ time.
However while Northern Ireland has, at many times, seemed powerless in the ongoing negotiations and contortions of the past four years, its status and future place on these islands has nonetheless been central to the development of the Withdrawal Agreement, the NI Protocol and recent debate around the Internal Market Bill.
Whatever the next few weeks hold, as the Assembly work to process 54 pieces of legislation before the transition period ends, what is clear is that regardless of the outcome, with more power returned to Westminster and Stormont respectively, there will be opportunities to shape the strategic policy direction on issues from environment to agriculture, health to transport.
So what assumptions should you make and what steps can you take to proactively engage in a post Brexit world?
Here are our five takeaways of what is all means for your organisation:
THE PROTOCOL STANDS – UNTIL THE ASSEMBLY DECIDE OTHERWISE
The NI Protocol comes into force on 1 January, regardless of whether the UK and EU reach an FTA in the coming weeks. The Protocol was part of the Withdrawal Agreement, ratified in London and Strasbourg last December.
In the event of a deal, certain aspects of the Protocol will ‘fall-away’, making its implementation somewhat less problematic. Still outstanding, however, is the impact of the Internal Market Bill, should it become law in coming weeks.
Once the transition period ends, determination of the Protocol will then transfer to the NI Assembly who will vote every four years on whether to consent to its continued operation, with the first vote scheduled sometime in late 2024.
Therefore, it will be important to engage with the Assembly and Executive on the effectiveness of the Protocol to ensure that the institutions understand its implications on businesses and organisations when implemented.
UNDERSTANDING AND SHAPING POLICY AND LEGISLATION
With so much legislation still to go through due process in the Assembly and Westminster – 54 primary bills and 116 subordinate pieces of legislation – there will also be further opportunities post-transition period to shape policy and legislation. The current priority is to ensure that the foundational legislation is in place to enable a smooth transition to a post-Brexit NI, however, this will not be the end of the road when it comes to legislative opportunities. Take, for example, the Environment Bill, still progressing through the UK Parliament. With many aspects extending to Northern Ireland, it is an enabling piece of legislation which establishes a variety of new bills and policies that need to be delivered locally.
NORTH/SOUTH, EAST/WEST PERSPECTIVES
No matter what the outcome of current FTA negotiations and the Internal Market Bill are, we can expect that there will be regulatory divergence across these islands which will have implications for businesses and organisations alike, many of whom will have a presence across the jurisdictions. Therefore an understanding and awareness of divergence, and operational challenges and opportunities, is key to ensuring that those operating on this basis are primed to respond.
BE FORWARD THINKING AND SOLUTION FOCUSED
There is no question that the NI Assembly and Executive have had a tough year, having been in fire-fighting mode from March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With an ever-increasing list of problems in their inbox, organisations who engage in an informed and solution-focused approach will have the best prospects of success.
Therefore a proactive engagement strategy will help you position your organisation with decision makers, building trust, credibility and relationships that can give way to progress on your issues.
INFORMATION IS KEY
Keeping up to date with what is going on has never been more important. With changes in legislation and policy, as well as where power lies, it is critical that organisations keep up to date with developments which is key to informing political strategy. Political monitoring – across NI, ROI and in GB will enable organisations to understand the evolving landscape, ensuring you are on top of developments and positioned to act when appropriate.
Stratagem is currently delivering a Strategic Insight Series on Brexit which is designed to help organisations plan political engagement and strategy following the end of the transition period. We also provide political monitoring which is critical to understanding what is happening in political institutions across the UK and Ireland. To find out more, get in touch.