1/ How time flies - there are now only two weeks left for the EU Parliament to ratify the Brexit trade deal before its provisional application runs out at the end of the month. There has long been an assumption in the end MEPs will put up and shut up, but is it quite that simple?
2/ So far the Parliament's main groupings have refused to set a date for the vote. But if it's going to happen, it's got to be at the April 26-29 plenary. In the meantime MEPs are carrying on laying the groundwork and the deal is set to clear its final committee hurdles today.
3/ What happens if they don't hold the vote in time? 1. The EU Commission asks for another extension which the UK would agree to, albeit under protest. Govt spox: 'We have agreed to extend the deadline for the EU...and we expect them to complete their processes to this timeline.'
4/ Or 2. There is no extension, either because the EU doesn't ask, or the UK says no. In which cases the deal lapses and trade reverts to WTO terms. This is an outcome that neither side wants to see at all, and would surely only come about as a result of a catastrophic accident.
5/ So, why are MEPs doing this? There are two reasons. Firstly, there is the question of the Northern Ireland Protocol and potential breaches of the Withdrawal Agreement by the UK. They want to see more progress towards a negotiated solution on that before signing the deal.
6/ In that regard today's dinner between Lord Frost and Maros Sefcovic could prove crucial. If they can chart a way forward that will help. As one source puts it: 'If the talks on Northern Ireland are going in the right direction, there’s a good chance we will see a vote.'
7/ And secondly, there's an internal inter-institutional element. The EP wants a much greater role in the governance of the trade deal and dispute settlement due to the 'exceptional' nature of relations with the UK. Among other things, it wants to attend the Partnership Council.
8/ So by holding off on agreeing to ratify the deal they're trying to 'put pressure' on the Commission, which so far isn't playing ball with their demands. All of this hasn't gone down terribly well with EU capitals, who think any extra delay would be 'extremely undesirable'.
9/ A diplomat says: 'Member States have signed off on it, and they want to see this thing ratified as quickly as possible.' And there is still a feeling that in the end MEPs will relent. Because, as one parliament source admits, they 'don't want to be responsible for a No Deal'.
10/ In the meantime, the uncertainty hangs over both sides' heads. The final decision on the agenda for this month's EP plenary will be taken at a heads of groups meeting next Thursday, so we may have to wait until then for full clarity...just 8 days before a potential No Deal.
11/ What this episode does is provide yet another demonstration of how difficult the waters of EU-UK relations are going to be to navigate, and the potential for the politics on both sides of the Channel to blow things off course. There's no plain sailing on the horizon yet.

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More from @nickgutteridge

25 Mar
1/ Ex Commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker says he's 'not a fan' of Ursula von der Leyen's export ban and 'I don't think this is the right way to do it'. He fears it will create 'major reputation damage' to the EU as a champion of free trade, in an interview with @BBCHARDtalk
2/ Juncker says: 'We have to pull back from a vaccine war. We have special relations with Britain, there's room for dialogue. Nobody understands why we're witnessing such a stupid vaccine war. This cannot be dealt with in a war atmosphere. We are not enemies, we are allies.'
3/ Juncker also admits the EU has messed up its rollout, but says the Member States share fault and VDL shouldn't resign. He says it was 'too cautious' approving vaccines and 'too budget conscious' in negotiations. The latter was 'a major mistake which should not have happened'.
Read 5 tweets
23 Mar
1/ The principle of 'reciprocity' of supply is at the heart of finding a solution to the UK-EU vaccines stand-off. But it's not a simple case of counting jabs export numbers. It's also about weighing each party's overall contribution to the development and production of vaccines.
2/ This is not only about finished vaccines, but also about international supply chains and the raw materials that go into them. Croda International, based in Yorkshire, provides lipid components for the Pfizer jab which is made here in Belgium, for example.
3/ And then there's the question of public funding towards the development of vaccines and scaling up of production. Should that count towards reciprocity? The UK contributed £88 million to getting the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab off the ground. Germany and the EU gave Pfizer funding.
Read 6 tweets
16 Mar
EMA boss Emer Cooke on AstraZeneca vaccine: 'At present there is no indication vaccination has caused these conditions. We’re still firmly convinced the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risk of side-effects.' Its evaluation into the jab's safety will conclude on Thursday.
EMA boss Emer Cooke: 'We are looking at adverse events associated with all vaccines. We have looked at the background rates for all the vaccines currently in circulation and it looks like there are similar numbers coming in across the world.'
EMA boss Emer Cooke: 'The decisions that are taken at a national level are being taken in the context of the information that’s available at national level, and it's the countries’ prerogative to do so. It’s our responsibility to focus on the science associated with these risks.'
Read 5 tweets
3 Mar
1/ So, just two months into the new UK-EU relationship we've already reached the point where the two sides are arguing over what constitutes a breach of the NI Protocol. Britain says it's done nothing wrong. Brussels is fuming. What's up? thesun.co.uk/news/14224105/…
2/ The latest row is about the UK's announcement that it plans to unilaterally extend grace periods exempting goods going from GB to NI from EU checks. These were agreed in the NI Protocol and are due to expire at the end of the month. But the UK is prolonging them until Oct 1.
3/ Today's announcement concerned health certificates usually required when moving products of animal origin. But later this week the UK is also expected to bring forward similar measures covering parcels and shipments of goods containing soil like pot plants and seed potatoes.
Read 15 tweets
18 Feb
1/ Trade Secretary Liz Truss will travel to Brussels tomorrow for talks with EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis. She will urge the EU to join forces with Britain and the US to tackle China's 'appalling behaviour' on the world stage. thesun.co.uk/news/14089864/…
2/ The talks will centre on matters of global trade, not the EU-UK trading relationship which is Lord Frost's domain. On the world stage Ms Truss wants to 'work hand-in-glove' with both Europe and the US, 'particularly on challenging China to play fair and clean up its act'.
3/ The meeting comes after the EU published a new trade policy today that warns the 'rapid rise of China affects a level playing field for European companies competing globally and at home' and says Europe needs 'the tools to defend ourselves when we face unfair trade practices'.
Read 4 tweets
11 Feb
Liam Smyth, from the British Chambers of Commerce, tells a Commons International Trade Committee about the Brexit deal: 'We're becoming increasingly aware of businesses that are simply turning away from international trade. We worry the pace of this is going to accelerate.'
Fergus McReynolds, from manufacturing industry representatives Make UK, says 'there's a lot we can do under the structures of the TCA to improve' the situation regarding barriers to trade. He adds: 'Our priority is making sure those supply chains thrive in the new relationship.'
Liam Smyth says firms are seeing a 'significant increase' in costs of moving freight and from extra paperwork. 'A factor is the availability of drivers prepared to come from the EU to drop a load in the UK, then take another load back. Empty trucks tell you they're not happy.'
Read 5 tweets

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