Lifestyle & Culture

Brexit buzz 2020: The latest developments as the UK counts down to 31 December

Ah, we’re starting 2020 fresh with a new Brexit buzz feature. Just as with the past three-and-a-half years, we’ll document new deadlines and a whole new slate of issues and complications to worry about if you’re a British expat or a British company relying on highly skilled internationals.

Yes, the United Kingdom left the European Union on 31 January after more than three years of wrangling and drama. But the drama continues as deadlines approach, including a June EU summit to assess the progress of talks, if any. June is also the final month the UK can request an extension of the transition period. (Insert Boris’s “dead in the ditch” quote here.)

Traveling on a British passport is about to get complicated. GOV.UK just issued a warning about passport rule changes after 31 December. In the pre-Brexit days, a British traveler had until the expiry date on their passport to go wherever in the European Union he/she wished. After 31 January, British passport holders must have at least six months of validity. And weirdly, even that might not get you into certain countries.

From the post:

If you renewed your current passport before the previous one expired, extra months may have been added to its expiry date. Any extra months on your passport over 10 years may not count towards the 6 months needed.

The rule applies to almost every country in Europe except Ireland, which falls under the Common Travel Agreement.

More real-world implications of Brexit are starting to fall into place. Michael Gove confirmed on 11 February that customs border checks will be the new reality after 31 January. Unfortunately, Gove and other Brexiteers had campaigned on the certainty the UK would maintain a frictionless free flow of trade across borders after Brexit and that new technologies would magically scan freight.

British Retail Consortium officials immediately pointed out that no infrastructure – magical or otherwise – is in place and it’s unlikely it can be installed in the brief time left.

So, like everything from the 350 million pounds for the National Health Service per week claim on the side of the red bus to “the easiest negotiations in history,” the frictionless border trade promise turns out to be more rainbows and unicorns.

N26 is shuttering operations in the United Kingdom. The Berlin-based digital bank will no longer have “passporting” rights to operate in the UK. Apparently N26 executives don’t think it’s worth the trouble of creating a British subsidiary. And this is emblematic of the choices facing financial institutions based outside the UK.

On 11 February, Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid and EU negotiator Michel Barnier had a little dustup over “equivalence,” the alignment of financial rules between the UK and EU. Javid drug out the old “we won’t be rule-takers” line, stating the EU should have access to EU financial markets while making up its own regulations.

Barnier replied that any treaties will have to be tied to EU rules. Sticky wicket, that.

Quartz has a fair-and-balanced post noting that while only a few thousand of the tens of thousands of people working in London’s financial hubs have left for The Continent, Wall Street banks could be forced to choose between the UK (market size 67 million) and the EU (market size 512 million) if UK/EU negotiations break down.

• Remember when a big, beautiful trade deal – the best deal – with the United States was going to make the United Kingdom forget all about the European Union? Well, shockingly, negotiations with Donald Trump are off to a bumpy start.

FT reported that Trump went “apoplectic” on Boris Johnson in a call over Johnson’s decision to include China-based Huawei in building out Britain’s 5G infrastructure.

The US also wants to force the UK to lower its food standards to allow in chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-produced beef from the States … one of the few things that could united left and right in the UK in opposition.

Axios has the best summary of all the issues complicating “the special relationship” the UK needs so desperately to leverage against the EU.

• Dutch immigration authorities are tracking a trend – more Brits are moving to the Netherlands while the flow of Dutch people to the United Kingdom is drying up.

 In 2019, about 6,700 native British people relocated to the Netherlands, a 60-percent increase over 2015, the last pre-Brexit year, according to Statistics Netherlands, the government’s statistics bureau. By comparison, In 2019, about 2,600  native Dutch people emigrated to the UK, the smallest number in 20 years.

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