Alison Ryan, London Office, Bord Bia – Irish Food Board

Key events this week:

Brexit has been delayed until October 31 after a six-hour summit of EU leaders ending at 2am in Brussels on Wednesday night. The UK will be able to leave earlier if it is able to ratify the withdrawal agreement reached between Theresa May and the EU. The October dates go beyond the June 30 date she promised would be the absolute limit of Britain’s membership of the bloc. For the EU, this deadline provides an opportunity for the bloc to bring Brexit to an end before the conclusion of Jean-Claude Juncker’s tenure as European commission president on 1 November.

The UK will have to participate in European Parliament elections. If British MEPs are not elected by 23 May, Britain will have to leave the EU on 1 June. However, May hopes that even if MEPs are voted in, they will not take up their seats when the new parliament convenes on 2 July if she can get her deal ratified before 30 June.

Until the UK leaves the EU, it will remain a full EU member state, with all the rights and obligations that implies, subject to a commitment by the UK to act in a “constructive and responsible manner” during this period.

The EU will not reopen negotiations on the withdrawal agreement but said it was open to discussing changes in the political declaration. Negotiations on a future relationship cannot begin until the withdrawal deal is ratified.

President of the European Council Donald Tusk, who had proposed a full year extension to allow Westminster to break the impasse, said he could not discount the leaders having to deal with a further extension request in October.

The UK government will continue talks with Labour, but the pressure is now off Labour to sign up to anything, anytime soon.

On Tuesday, the House of Commons approved Theresa May’s requests to seek a three-month extension to Brexit. However, almost 100 Tory MPs voted against the Prime Minister, including four cabinet ministers and over 80 MPs abstained, underlining May’s loss of control over her party. May only won the vote on the back of support from Labour and other opposition parties, with only 31% of her backing coming from 131 Conservative MPs.

Implications for Irish food & drink companies:

The immediate threat of no-deal Brexit on 12 April has been avoided. However, there is still uncertainty as to when and how the UK will leave the EU. Irish companies should continue to prepare for all Brexit possibilities in the coming months. Bord Bia’s support programmes can be found here.

Looking ahead:

  • October 31 is the new Brexit deadline.
  • The UK government must inform the Electoral Commission and the European Parliament of its intentions to hold elections on 12 April.
  • The House of Commons will break for Easter recess on 16 April and convene again on 23 April.
  • European Parliament elections will take place on 22 May.
  • If the UK has not elected MEPs by 23 May, Britain will leave the EU on 1 June.
  • European leaders will hold a symbolic meeting in June to review the UK’s progress.