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EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement: the impact on the transport industry

Four years after the Brexit referendum, the UK officially severed its ties with the EU on 31 December 2020. In the final moments of the transition period, and after more than nine months of negotiations, the EU and the UK reached an EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) on 24 December, outlining the terms of their post-Brexit partnership. The agreement provides for continued and sustainable air, road, rail, and maritime connectivity, albeit with limitations for UK companies when entering the EU’s Single Market. So, what are the main changes in the new relationship compared to the transition period? And what impact does the new agreement have on the EU-UK transport connectivity?

Air transport: providing a framework for EU-UK air transport connectivity  

The key takeaways of the agreement

The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement replaces existing EU legislation regulating the operation of UK airlines in the EU vice versa. The agreement states that British air carriers holding a valid license may continue to transport passengers and freight between the UK and the EU without limits on capacity or frequency. However, they are not allowed to operate between EU airports anymore. Onward carriage (‘5th freedom’) will be possible for the carriage of cargo to/from a third country (e.g. Paris-London-New York), if Member States agree this bilaterally and reciprocally with the UK.

To ensure a level playing field, both the EU and the UK agreed to eliminate all forms of discrimination which would safeguard fair competition between EU and the UK air carriers in each other’s markets. Moreover, the agreement includes ownership and control requirements to determine what airlines are considered ‘Community carriers’ and what airlines are considered ‘UK carriers’. To be considered as a ‘Community air carrier’, meaning an EU airline, the company must be majority-owned by EU interests. However, UK carriers which had a UK operating licence on 31 December 2020, may also be owned and controlled by EU/EEA/Swiss nationals.

The effects of the agreement

Due to the new ownership and control requirements, certain airlines have moved, such as EasyJet, Ryanair and Wizz Air, to stop UK investors from buying shares after 1 January 2021. The same airlines also announced that existing UK shareholders would see their voting rights restricted, and will not be allowed to attend, speak, or vote at meetings anymore.

Road transport: new border and customs checks result in administrative burden

The key takeaways of the agreement

As the UK has left the Single Market and Customs Union, border and customs checks have been reintroduced starting 1 January 2021. Haulers crossing the border from the EU to the UK or vice versa must ensure that they possess the necessary paperwork to cross the border with their goods. Passengers must also be in possession of the correct travel documentation. Regarding transport of private citizens, the UK continues to recognize EU driving licenses, but Member States no longer recognize driving licenses issued by the UK. Under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, haulers may continue to operate and transit between UK and EU territory without needing specific permits or additional certificates of professional qualification or licenses.

The effects of the agreement

In practice, road transport (especially transport of goods) has been highly disturbed due to the newly introduced border and customs checks. As a result of the increased administrative burden and longer waiting time at the border, increasing delivery times as well as the chance of spoiled goods, hiding of stowaways in vehicles, or other risks engaging the liability of haulers, many companies have decided to suspend their EU-UK service. This is for example the case of DPD or German company DB Schenker.

Maritime transport: no market access restrictions, but seaports will have to accommodate border and customs checks

The key takeaways of the agreement

The agreement maintains the principle of unrestricted access to international maritime markets and trades. This means that each party must grant access to ships sailing under any flag. Each party must also provide port services such as pilotage, towing or port assistance to international maritime transport service suppliers. Moreover, safety and environmental issues related to maritime transport are not regulated by EU law but by international treaties. UK companies and vessels will need to continue operating within the scope of this international regulatory framework.

The effects of the agreement

Although the agreement will require limited adaption from the maritime transport sector, maritime seaports will have to accommodate significant trade volumes that are transported by sea and facilitate haulers crossing the border from the EU-UK or vice versa by ferry. Around half of the UK exports and imports are heading towards continental Europe. Vice versa, for EU Member States, specifically those situated on the Atlantic coast, trade with the UK constitutes a big part of their overall trade numbers. As such, maritime seaports play an important role in facilitating the new border and customs checks as well as accommodating the subsequent traffic flows.

Rail transport: EU-UK cooperation continues on rail safety matters

The key takeaways of the agreement

The agreement itself does not include any specific provision for rail services. EU-based railway undertakings need to apply for UK licensing to run services in the UK, for which the UK has determined a deadline on 31 January 2022. UK-based railway undertaking running domestic services in the EU need an operating license issued by an EU Member State. The UK is no longer a member of the European Railway Agency (ERA) since 31 January 2020 and will not be seeking membership. However, the British Government encourages its rail industry to continue to work with ERA at technical and working levels, and has announced its intention to continue cooperating with the ERA on safety related matters.

The effects of the agreement

In practice, cross-border railway undertakings had prepared for the end of the transition period by requesting the relevant authorizations and licenses. Therefore, cross border rail services, such as the Eurostar, have continued with way less disturbance than road traffic. The Eurostar service was briefly suspended in December to limit the spread of the newly-identified COVID-19 variant, but not as a consequence of Brexit. Traffic has since then resumed, to the capacity allowed by the COVID travel restrictions in place on both sides of the Channel.

The limited impact of Brexit on rail freight, compared to road freight, can be explained by the much smaller number of goods transiting by trains compared to goods transiting by truck. If road customs check congestions are not reduced, however, this could trigger a reorganisation of supply chains to the benefit of the rail freight sector.

Next steps: ratification and implementation of the agreement

It is important to note that the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the rights and conditions it contains are not set in stone. Firstly, it is for now an “agreement in principle”, and will be provisionally applied from 1 January until 28 February 2021, pending the final consent of the European Parliament. Additionally, there are still some aspects unclear in terms of the enforcement of the agreement.

Once ratified, the agreement plans for the creation of a Joint Partnership Council, which will oversee the realization of the agreements’ objectives and facilitate its implementation. To fulfil this mission, it has the power to amend the substantive provisions of the agreement. The Joint Partnership Council will be composed of varying EU and UK ministers, depending on the topic that is discussed. It is not yet clear when the Joint Partnership Council will hold its session or at what frequency, and what the exact impact of its creation will be.

Dr2 Consultants has extensive expertise and network by providing support to stakeholders in the transport sector, ranging from rail and aviation to the maritime sector, and assists companies understand the consequences and implications of Brexit through its Brexit Office. We tailor our services, knowledge and expertise to support organizations in the most bespoke way and achieve tangible results. If you would like to know more and gain support in understanding the post-Brexit regulatory maze, please contact us via our website.

Brexit Office

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Brexit: impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the latest negotiatons rounds

During the last two months, the world has come to a stop because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Trade negotiations have not been exempted, and the EU-UK negotiations have been severely affected. As the virus broke out in Europe, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tested positive for the coronavirus and only a day later the UK chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost self-isolated, together with other key members of the negotiation teams. This obviously casted a shadow of doubt on the future of the negotiations, when expectations were already quite limited concerning what could be achieved in such a short amount of time.

Despite the major disruption, and the delay taken in the negotiations, the EU and the UK resumed the Brexit discussions on 15 April. During that call they agreed on negotiating rounds lasting a full week during the weeks of 20 April, 11 May and 1 June.

After the negotiations round of 20 April, Michel Barnier immediately expressed his disappointment regarding the progress of the talks, specifically on key issues such level playing field and fisheries. The UK, too, recognized the lack of progress on governance and level playing field and stressed that there cannot be any deal until the EU drops its insistence on imposing conditions on the UK which are not found in any other EU trade agreements.

Unfolding a blaming game between the UK and the EU, where Britain accuses the EU of treating the UK as “unworthy” partner in the negotiations, Michel Barnier blaming the UK for not being realistic and EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan adding that the UK would be ready to accept a no-deal, while blaming the failure to reach a deal on the impact of COVID-19 on the negotiations

However, according to Frost, a comprehensive free-trade agreement is within reach, alongside individual agreements on issues such as law enforcement, nuclear energy, and aviation. On 19 May the UK Government published 12 legal texts on several of the above mentioned issues which will be the basis of the last negotiations rounds in June, following the EU’s publication its own draft trade deal earlier this year.This new UK text appears to be both surpringly ambitious in certain areas (for example, equivalence provisions on sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers to trade) and less surprinsingly, lacking ambition on regulatory cooperation and level playing field.

Extension of Brexit?

As stated above, there will be only one additional negotiation round before the agreed high-level stock-taking conference, where the UK and the EU are supposed to determine whether enough progress has been made or if an extension to the transition period is required in order to reach an agreement.

Such an extension would have to be requested by the UK Government, and agreed by the European Council before 1 July. However, the UK has consistently made clear that it will not ask to extend the transition period as it would only prolong the negotiations, business uncertainty, and delay the moment at which the UK can take back control of its sovereignty.

With the lack of progress, how the events will unfold in the coming two months remain extremely uncertain, while pressure on both sides of the channel grow in favor of an extension.

Brexit: Momentum? From a deal to elections

In the last two weeks, the Brexit debate has gained momentum. For starters, on 17 October the European Union and the United Kingdom reached an agreement on Brexit. The changes to the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration have been made in the context of significant developments in the Brexit debate: the removal of the backstop and the negotiation of a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. Consequently, Northern Ireland will remain in UK customs territory, but the UK will be responsible for enforcing EU customs procedures. Furthermore, Northern Ireland representatives can vote on continuation of the special arrangement by simple majority 4 years after the end of the transition period.

After the European Council voted unanimously to accept the new deal, the UK Members of Parliament (MPs) gathered for the first time in 37 years on a Saturday to also vote on the new Brexit deal. However, the deal was pre-empted when MPs adopted the Letwin amendment, which requires the Prime Minister to ask for an extension, allowing MPs more time to pass the full Brexit legislation and properly scrutinize the deal. A few hours later European Council President Donald Tusk confirmed he had received three letters: a letter – that was, however, not signed by Boris Johnson – asking for an extension of the Brexit deadline until 31 January 2020; a second letter written by Sir Tim Barrow, the UK’s permanent representative to the EU, explaining that the first letter was required under the terms of the Benn Act; and finally a third letter from the Prime Minister, regretting the decision of the UK parliament to ask for a delay. The EU reacted that it will not decide on (the length of) a delay before the House of Commons discusses the new Brexit deal, but it is pretty sure that they will accept an extension.

House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, ruled two days later, on 21 October, that he was not going to permit MPs to hold another vote on the Withdrawal Agreement and the Parliamentary Declaration that day. Instead, the House of Commons voted on 22 October on two other proposals. It first approved the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) in the second reading, a bill that passes the Withdrawal Agreement into UK law and  gives the government permission to ratify it. However, MPs then rejected the government’s proposed timetable, which would have required MPs to debate and sing off on the Bill in three days. The government’s defeat on the legislative timetable has important implications. First, it is now highly unlikely that the UK will exit the EU on 31 October, and second, MPs will now have more time to propose amendments to the Bill. Johnson decided, after the second vote, to pause the legislation “until the EU has made its intentions clear” regarding the extension that would be granted. At this stage, it is not yet clear if there will be a short delay or a long one, until the end of January.

In this turn of events, Boris Johnson indicated on 24 October that he wants to organize early elections on 12 December. In this way he wants to put extra pressure on the parliament to approve his Brexit agreement. However, the opposition only wants to accept new elections if the European Union agrees to a long delay for the Brexit. A vote on the elections will take place on Monday 28 October.

Time is running out because the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that the UK must name an EU commissioner to serve in Brussels if the EU grants a delay to the 31 October Brexit deadline.

Brexit: What after the prorogation?

On 16 September, Boris Johnson and Jean-Claude Juncker met for the first time in person since Johnson became Prime Minister. Both parties saw the meeting as an opportunity to take stock of the negotiations, but the Commission’s statement afterwards concluded that no concrete proposals emerged from the discussion. On the same day, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, called Boris Johnson’s approach to Brexit a nightmare at a press conference (which Johnson left early due to anti-Brexit protestors ruining it). Bettel also said the British government had not made any serious proposals for a new deal. Therefore Jean-Claude Juncker also repeated on 18 September, during the European parliament plenary session in Strasbourg, that a no-deal scenario is still very plausible.

However, a deal (or an extension of Article 50) seems necessary as the British government has been accused of minimalizing the possible disruption at ports in a no-deal scenario. Documents published last week about Operation Yellowhammer, the official plan to handle a no-deal scenario, suggested that there would be a low risk for ports outside Kent, a port that has a lot of EU traffic. But new documents show that this is only because tens of thousands of vehicles would be rejected because they would be non-compliant, meaning that the drivers would not have the correct permits or the correct papers filled in, and would be turned away. Also, the facilitation of trade between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic still needs some time. Johnson is setting out plans for an all-Ireland economic relationship which must replace the Irish backstop. With this plan, Northern Ireland would effectively become a special economic zone inside both the UK and the EU. There would still be a border and everything that is not covered by the all-island regime would be subject to checks.

But, as Juncker stated, there is also a very big chance that the UK will leave the European Union without a deal. Two weeks ago, UK MPs passed a law which requires Boris Johnson to seek an extension of Article 50 if Johnson fails to secure a Brexit deal with the EU by 19 October (dubbed the Benn Act). There is no guarantee that Johnson will do that. However, another concern now is that even if Johnson agrees with the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) with the EU and the deal successfully passes through Parliament, there could not be sufficient time to pass through Parliament a separate act implementing the WA (a complex piece of legislation) – or it could be blocked by MPs – before 31 October. Now, once the WA is agreed, the Benn Act does not come into force because it does not take into account the separate act to implement the WA, so the result is a no-deal Brexit. Therefore, it is in the interest of Labour and Tory rebel MPs not to agree to the WA before the extension has been secured. An extension should be obligatory, whether there is a deal or not.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court, is currently hearing the case over Johnson’s decision to temporarily shut down the UK Parliament. Scotland’s highest court ruled last week that the suspension was indeed unlawful, but the High Court in England had ruled earlier the opposite way. Therefore, the UK Supreme Court is now discussing if this case is justiciable and, if so, whether the prorogation was lawful. After two days of hearing arguments on both sides, also former Tory prime minister John Major spoke on the final day in court to doubt Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament. It is not yet known when the judges will deliver their verdict, but it is expected for next week.

In addition, on 18 September, a clear majority of the Members of the European Parliament voted for a resolution supporting the UK being given a Brexit deadline extension should it request one. The vote itself is largely symbolic because the European Parliament wants to show that it cannot be ignored. However, the EP will reject a deal that does not include a backstop. This is significant because the EP will need to vote through the final Brexit deal.

Brexit: The Blame Game

At the moment, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is travelling through Europe. Johnson already met with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin where he tried to renegotiate the Irish border backstop. However, Merkel stated that she was open for a dialogue and practical solutions for the Irish border, but she does not want to reopen the negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement. Today, Johnson is traveling to Paris to meet French President Emmanuel Macron and on Saturday he will attend the G7 summit in Biarritz, France.

Next to his European tour, Boris Johnson also sent a request to the European Council President, Donald Tusk, asking whether the EU is prepared to consider a solution for the Irish border problem and, consequently, wants to reopen the negotiations with the EU. In his letter to Tusk, Johnson made it clear that it is crucial the Irish backstop be removed from the current Brexit deal. Johnson proposed to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements, such as technological solutions, and promised not to put infrastructure, checks or controls in place at the border, but did not provide concrete details. Tusk reacted by saying that he was not in favor of removing the Irish backstop as it is still the only assurance to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Tusk judged the alternatives of Johnson as unrealistic and misleading. Therefore, the blame game, of who ultimately will trigger a no-deal Brexit, seems to be accelerating.

As the negotiations between the UK and the European Union clearly do not seem to take off, London wants to show that they are serious about leaving. On 18 August, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay signed into law legislation to repeal the Act of Parliament which defined Britain’s EU membership in 1972. Barclay stated after signing: “This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back, we are leaving the EU as promised on October 31, whatever the circumstances.” The repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 will take effect when Britain formally leaves the EU on 31 October. In addition, on 20 August the UK Government announced that, as of 1 September, UK officials will only attend EU meetings if they could affect national interests, e.g. security.

However, the consequences of leaving the EU without a deal are even worse than expected. A leaked government report, called Operation Yellowhammer, outlined the scenario of what would happen after 31 October if a no-deal Brexit were to happen. The report makes clear that businesses in the UK are not at all ready for such a scenario. A no-deal Brexit would especially have severe consequences for the transport sector. 50% – 85% of lorries travelling across the Channel may not be ready for French customs and at least three months of disruption to the short Channel crossings are expected. In addition, parts of the food supply chain, including the availability of fresh foods as well as ingredients and packaging, could also be impacted, leading to reduced choice and price rises.

In the meantime, Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is trying to find allies in the House of Commons  to form a temporary government to secure an extension of the current Brexit deadline. However, Liberal Democrats leader, Jo Swinson, criticized the plan, saying that Corbyn is not the right person to build a temporary majority. In addition, Corbyn also said that he wanted to organize elections in which Labour would campaign for a second referendum with the option to stay in the European Union. Elections are likely as the majority of the current government shrank to only one seat. The political parties are also increasingly running political ads on Facebook, especially the Brexit Party, although the Conservative Party and Boris Johnson Facebook campaigns combined dominate the social media campaign.

Brexit: state of play of the no deal scenario

That a no deal Brexit will damage the British and European economy was already clear. The Catholic University of Leuven even calculated that a no deal Brexit would cost the European Union 1.54% of GDP and 1.2 million jobs. The effect for the UK: a 4.4% reduction in GDP and 525,000 job losses, this only in the short term. In terms of sectors, a hard Brexit would have especially a severe effect on the European Food and Beverages sector. A hard Brexit would also have a big impact on the European textile industry and in addition, services sectors would be heavily affected.

Due to the severe economic consequences of a no deal, Members of Parliament (MPs) from both the Conservative Party as the Labour Party tabled an amendment on the parliamentary estimates bill that would deny funding to four government departments in the event of a no-deal Brexit without explicit parliamentary approval. The amendment concerned the departments for International Development, Work and Pensions, Education, and Housing, Communities and Local Government. However, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, said on 1 July that he had not selected this amendment. Grieve and Beckett have, therefore, re-submitted their amendment on 2 July, but 10 Downing Street has strongly condemned this amendment to shut down the government as very irresponsible.

Not only the MPs are concerned, but also Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, asked last week to accelerate the preparations for a no deal Brexit. Barclay said: “Time is of the essence and we can’t be complacent. I do not want to be in a situation when we get to November and there were things we could have been doing at this time and we didn’t do them.”

Key players in a possible no deal Brexit are of course Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the remaining contenders in the Conservative Party leadership race. In his bet to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt presented his ten-point plan for delivering Brexit in case he wins. Hunt proposes to speed up the no deal preparations, the establishment of a No Deal Cabinet Task Force and the appointment of a new negotiating team. A Government under his leadership would prepare for a No Deal Brexit Budget, and the Treasury would prepare a No Deal Relief Programme including a £6 billion fund for the fishing and farming sectors.

Boris Johnson, on the other hand, has said that he believes there is only a “very, very small possibility” that the UK will have to leave the EU without a deal. However, he also said that when he is elected as new Prime Minister, every member of his Cabinet should have to live with the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal. This is also in line with the fact that Johnson is preparing an emergency budget for such a scenario. More concretely, this budget will consist of a tax cut and a revision of stamp duties to safeguard the economy after a hard Brexit.

What’s next?

Conservative Party members will receive their postal ballots between 6-8 July. The final deadline to return the ballots is Sunday 21 July. Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt participate in hustings until 17 July. It is widely believed, however, that a majority of voters will immediately cast their vote when they receive their ballot. The next few days will, therefore, be key for Hunt to get his message across and for Johnson to avoid any gaffes. In the week of 22 July, Britain’s new Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister will be announced.

Brexit: the final campaign?

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the two remaining candidates in the race for the leadership of the Conservative Party and the position of Prime Minister of the UK, are campaigning throughout the country to win the votes of 160,000 Conservative Party members. Johnson is more likely to win, not only because he had a big lead over Hunt in the last voting round (170 to 77 votes), but also because a recent poll shows that more than three quarters of the party members believe Johnson would be a good leader.

The strength of Johnson is that he is clear in his mission. He wants to leave the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal. In a no-deal scenario he even proposed this week not to impose tariffs on goods entering the UK. Yet, Johnson stressed that it is not only a decision made by the UK, but also by the EU. Despite criticism of others like the Governor of the Bank of England and the International Trade Secretary that this would not be possible Johnson did not change his strategy. Therefore, his rival, Jeremy Hunt, is blaming Johnson that his no-deal Brexit plans are remaining too vague and unrealistic. Hunt distinguishes himself from Johnson by pursuing a better deal rather than a no-deal Brexit. Hunt stated that a new deal with the EU would be difficult but said that he would keep negotiating if parliament were to veto the no-deal option, even with the option of an extension after 31 October.

One of the main issues, also in this campaign, is still the Irish backstop. To solve this problem three domestic advisory groups have been established. The Technical Alternative Arrangements Advisory Group is the first, the second is comprised of businesses and trade unions and gathered for the first time this week, and the third will be made up of parliamentarians. Boris Johnson’s main goal is to replace the Northern Ireland backstop in May’s Withdrawal Agreement (WA) with “alternative arrangements” to take effect at the end of the transition period. Jeremy Hunt’s main goal, too, is to renegotiate the WA and get rid of the Northern Ireland backstop as it is currently stated. However, as stated before, Hunt would continue negotiations to find a deal beyond 31 October.

The Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar reacted this week again that he could not accept alternative arrangements as an alternative for the backstop before he knew how it would work in practice. In addition, he said that it would never be possible to have these alternatives ready before the UK leaves the EU. Therefore, he still supports the backstop as the only solution for the time being.

What’s next?

Conservative Party members will receive their postal ballots between 6-8 July. The final deadline to return the ballots is Sunday 21 July and consequently, the winner will be announced in the week of 22 July. Johnson and Hunt participate in hustings until 17 July.

Brexit: Searching for a new leader

The resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May last week could not save the Conservative Party in the European elections. It was quite clear that the Brexit Party of Nigel Farage is the winning party, gaining 29 seats. The Liberal Democrats took 16 seats, the Labour Party 10, the Green Party 7, the Conservative Party 4, the Scottish National Party 3 and Plaid Cymru 1.

As the election results were devastating for the traditional parties, Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson, indicated that the Brexit stance of Labour costed Labour a lot of votes. In particular, the unclear position of Labour towards a second referendum. In addition, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, one of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s closest political allies, told the BBC another referendum may be the only way to break the Brexit deadlock in Parliament.

But Brexit did not only had a huge effect on the elections in the UK, but actually in the whole European Union, at least that is what President of the European Council Donald Tusk claimed at yesterday’s informal European Council summit. Tusk argued that Brexit acted as a “vaccine” against Euroscepticism and, therefore, helped to limit the profit of anti-EU parties. Tusk also added that he is not optimistic about the future of Brexit, because “we are all aware of the state of things in London.” A no-deal scenario or the UK revoking Article 50 remains likely. Influential Tories, Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, are for example still willing to leave the EU without a deal.

In the meantime, the European Union is preparing itself for Brexit, with or without a deal. When Theresa May offered her resignation last week, EU leaders already warned that nothing had changed in Brussels. The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, is one official who said the EU would never reopen negotiations on the Brexit divorce deal, whoever succeeded May. Furthermore, a spokeswoman for the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that “Brussels’s position on the withdrawal agreement has been set out, there is no change to that.” In addition, Sabine Weyand, Deputy Chief Negotiator and right hand of Michel Barnier within the European Commission’s Article 50 Taskforce, has been appointed today as the new Director-General of Directorate-General Trade. This indicates that the European Union is preparing itself for the next step in the Brexit process as Weynand will lead the EU’s negotiations with the UK on its future trade relationship in the post Brexit phase.

What’s next?

It is still unclear if there will be a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill next week as Theresa May announced earlier. For the time being the focus is more on the possible successor of May. Tory MPs have until 10 June to put their name forward, and the party hopes a new leader will be in place by the end of July. In addition, a possible general election seems unlikely. Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, already said that the Conservative Party would commit “political suicide” if a general election was held.