Brexit: what happens after exit day?

Ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU on 31 January, Fiona Wright, our Head of Regulatory Affairs, gives an update on where we are now, what might happen next and how we will continue to support the UK seafood industry.

Having passed through the House of Commons last week, the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is expected to complete its passage through Parliament in time for the UK to leave the EU on 31 January 2020.

Assuming that the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill do become law, we will enter a transition period (sometimes referred to as the implementation period) from 1 February 2020. During this transitionary phase, which is set to run until 31 December 2020, the UK will remain in the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union and EU rules will continue to apply. This includes the Common Fisheries Policy. In practice the UK will continue to trade as if it is still in the EU until the end of 2020 with no changes to current import/export practices. 

The eleven-month transition period will see the UK and EU negotiate on their future trading relationship. The Government has stated the aim of achieving a free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU without tariffs or quotas. It has also stated a desire to become less aligned to the rules the EU bloc, which would create regulatory divergence. During the transition period the UK will also be able to begin negotiations on trade deals with other countries such as the USA. The details of trade deals are likely to be complex, but we can expect consultations on their content as these agreements progress in the coming months. 

The Withdrawal Bill also includes the Northern Ireland Protocol, specific arrangements for free trade - and preventing a hard border - between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We are currently producing guidance on what these new provisions will mean for seafood businesses in Northern Ireland and Great Britain and for seafood trade across the Irish Sea.

So, as Brexit happens and we begin a new countdown to 1 January 2021, we find ourselves in familiarly unknown territory - not yet knowing the exact nature of the changes that will occur when the transition period ends; to what extent the regulatory landscape will change; or the provisions of international trade agreements.

We will take the same practical, pragmatic and non-partisan approach we have taken throughout the Brexit process so far and continue responding to issues raised with us by businesses and individuals and working with industry, government, devolved administrations and other organisations to prepare the seafood sector for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. We’ll also continue to keep you updated on the latest developments via our website, social media and newsletters – and we would encourage you to keep engaging with us on any questions or concerns that you have, wherever you are in the seafood supply chain.