Another important thread by David Henig on why it is essential to halt the UK-EU Brexit negotiations during the coronavirus pandemic to focus on the issue at hand.

First published in March 2020.

Brexit negotiations should be suspended immediately except to agree the modalities of an extension to make up for any time lost.

It is a simple matter of priorities. Managing a pandemic, supporting individuals, and protecting from potential financial crisis must be the focus.

Trade negotiations are all embracing – typically in some way or other – and covering all departments. The central team will need answers from them at some point, and right now you cannot make any case that responding should be anywhere near the highest priority.

Then there is the work to make sure the UK is ready for January 1 2021.

This involves new systems, agencies taking on new responsibilities, and complexities with how this works in Northern Ireland. Important stuff. Bound to be delayed in the next three months.

To illustrate, Health.

Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. /

The UK needs to take on the functions of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in various ways, including approving new drugs, as from Jan 1 2021. A non-trivial amount of work across a number of departments and agencies.

In Northern Ireland most of the EU legislation covering medicines will continue to apply.

The way in which a UK agency will apply UK law in GB and EU law (and databases) in Northern Ireland is a tricky problem. Anyone think this should be an immediate priority?

New Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. /

This is before we consider staffing. If government forecasts are correct the majority of civil servants are going to be taking time off work sick or self-isolating between now and the summer. They are expected not to come to work. This is bound to affect government work.

Equally the full UK and EU teams are unlikely to be able to meet between now and the summer in line with varying advice. You have to plan for that now. Remote conversations are not going to be a substitute for negotiating rounds. Nor should individual civil servants be put under pressure at this time to meet arbitrary deadlines.

There will be huge pressure on anyone even tangentially involved with the coronavirus pandemic. Just look at stories from Italy. They have to be the priority.

Officials covering economic matters are also going to have serious issues prioritising Brexit talks against the backdrop of serious economic problems – given what is happening in much of the service economy globally we are going to need major interventions.

A final reason for now, government and private sector have to work together much better. There are reports of shortages of medical goods and grocery items, and resolving these has to be more of a priority than clashes over Brexit priorities.

Unity of purpose.

Government has to take its own warnings. This is a pandemic, and like nothing we have seen before. Level with themselves, anything else can no longer have the same priority. Time to clear the decks and ensure singular focus on coronavirus.

And finally, no it doesn’t matter whether you are a Brexiter or a Remainer, I am not very interested in either right now. As someone said yesterday, Brexit has given us our time in the sun. That time should for the time being end. It is the least of my worries right now.

P.S. to note: any extension of transition can be flexible – it does not have to be a full year or two.

European Commission

Tweets posted on 13 March 2020 by @DavidHenigUK.

[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 14 March 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Pixels.)