Clear rules, solid and long-term guarantees of open and fair competition. These are the main points that emerged during the ninth round of negotiations on a future partnership between the European Union and the United Kingdom.
Based on the statements made by the EU’s chief negotiator for implementing Brexit, Michel Barnier, there can be no lack of “an efficient governance framework, based on a comprehensive agreement, with robust enforcement and dispute settlement mechanisms and effective remedies”.
This request has become even more necessary following the House of Commons’ approval of a bill for the organisation of the UK Internal Market (United Kingdom Internal Market Bill), where the United Kingdom would have the opportunity to review unilaterally the rules on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland contained in the Withdrawal Agreement.
The European Commission has launched infringement proceedings against the UK after the disputed parts of the bill were not withdrawn, despite requests from the EU. This complicates the relationship of trust and dialogue between the parties. Thus, despite Barnier’s willingness to continue negotiations until the end with a calm and determined attitude, the imminent conclusion of the transitional period threatens an exit without agreement.
What would be the immediate consequences of a lack of agreement? And what would happen to health and digital policies in particular?
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will become responsible for the regulation of medicines in the UK from 1 January 2021. First, in a scenario without agreement, medicines may be delayed at borders if no mutual recognition agreement is concluded with the European Union. In addition, pharmaceutical companies will face significant changes in the way the complex regulatory environment for medicines will operate from 2021 onwards and, for this reason, will need clear guidance. To address a shortage of supply, companies will need to prepare stocks of medicines and work closely with the UK regulatory agency to clarify the details of many areas of regulation, including individual medicines and the Northern Ireland Protocol.
When it comes to digital, the first immediate impact will be on citizens. In the absence of a different agreement with Brussels, from 1 January 2021, the guarantee of free roaming on mobile devices throughout the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway will end. British consumers will certainly be protected by domestic provisions, but they will no longer be able to benefit from the absence of international roaming charges.
Another key point is the transfer of data. A possible restriction could result in substantial economic and commercial damage. The UK’s commitment is to continue to allow digital information to be transferred to the EU, but no such agreement has yet been reached. On the other hand, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will also no longer apply. Any transfer of personal data to the UK will be considered a transfer to a third country. In accordance with Article 45 of the GDPR, the United Kingdom will have to be considered as a secure state for the importation of personal data and obtain an adequacy decision from the Commission.
With regard to the negotiations, Michel Barnier said that in order to reach an agreement “there is still a lack of progress on some important topics like the protection of data protection, climate change commitments or carbon pricing”. In addition, there were “serious divergences on matters of major importance for the European Union”. Operating in a scenario without agreement would undoubtedly have an important impact on all EU policies, and not only from a trade point of view. On the other hand, the President of the European Council himself, Charles Michel, stated that “the European Union prefers an agreement, but not at any cost”, adding, moreover, that it is “time for the UK to put its cards on the table”.