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Brexit Weekly Digest - 16 July

This week the EU announce the estimated cost of the Brexit divorce bill, HGV drivers continue to be in short supply, and the government extend and expand the Movement Assistance Scheme to help agri-food traders.

EU’s estimated divorce bill higher than UK government expected

As part of the Brexit deal agreed by former Prime Minister Theresa May in November 2018, the UK have to repay the EU a ‘divorce bill’ covering annual membership fees, EU infrastructure, pension costs, and more. While her successor, Boris Johnson, has changed many other aspects of the Brexit deal, the financial component remains the same. However, the estimated sum published by the EU has been rejected by Downing Street, with No 10 spokesperson saying, “We don't recognise that figure”.

The EU’s accounts have estimated a total of £40.8bn (€47.5bn) to be paid by the UK, with €6.8bn to be paid in 2021. The UK’s calculations expected the total to be between £35bn-£39bn, with the Office for Budget Responsibility suggesting a bill of £37.1bn (€41.4bn) in 2018. The EU is also due to repay the UK a sum of around €1.8bn, representing the British share of dines on rule-breaking companies, collected by the EU competition authority (The Guardian).

The final bill is not expected to be settled for many years, however the UK has already started making early repayments. Tony Murphy, Ireland’s member of the court of Auditors said in an RTE News podcast, “While the 2020 EU consolidated accounts published by the Commission are as of yet provisional, the court has completed its audit work on these accounts. For all intent and purposes the figures published by the Commission are definitive”.


HGV truck driver shortage under discussion

Last week we reported staff shortages in the haulier industry caused by Brexit and Covid-19. Chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, Richard Burnett, had asked government to place HGV drivers on the shortage occupation list to allow for EU citizens to work in the UK.

The Home Office has announced there are no plans to introduce a short-term visa scheme for foreign lorry drivers, the BBC understands. While the haulier industry is pushing for a short-term solution, the government wants to prioritise training British hauliers. Full training for an HGV driver typically takes 6-9 months. In normal circumstances, the Driver and Vehicle Agency test an average of 2,800 people a year, however in 2020 there was an 89% decrease in testing, with only 300 people getting behind the wheel.


Government to boost support for Northern Ireland agri-food traders

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced on Monday that the government will increase support for traders moving agri-food from Great Britain to Northern Ireland until the end of 2023 through the Movement Assistance Scheme (MAS).

The MAS was first launched in December 2020 and has helped more than 140 businesses with the cost of certification and covered 1,300 hours of inspection. The extension to the scheme will now cover:

  • scrapies testing for sheep exports
  • sample testing and certification required for individual seed lots (from 1 August)
  • the Plant Health Exports Audited Trader Scheme (PHEATS)
  • exporters in Great Britain who move organics solely to Northern Ireland, and Northern Irish importers who face new costs to receive these goods from Great Britain (from 1 August)

Farming, Fisheries and Food Minister, Victoria Prentis said, “Extending and expanding the scheme means that we can offer further help to businesses affected by new rules, and it demonstrates the efforts the Government has made to operationalise the Protocol”.

Since the Protocol has made it harder for Irish businesses to import goods from Great Britain, trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has increased. In the first quarter of 2021, Northern Ireland exports to the Republic were up by 60% to more than €1bn (£859m), and up by 40% to €977m (£841m) in the other direction (BBC News). However, Brexit Minister Lord Frost described this as a “problem”, as it showed Northern Ireland firms cannot use their first choice suppliers.

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