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The countdown to Britain leaving the EU

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More than four years after the UK voted for Brexit, the terms of Britain’s future relationship with the EU are settled.

From January 1, the UK’s economic relationship with the EU will be governed by a tariff-free trade deal. The agreement also safeguards vital co-operation in areas such as the fight against terrorism and the handling of sensitive nuclear materials.

Here are the key dates, moments and turning points in the Brexit saga:

23 June 2016: UK votes to leave the EU
British voters make the historic decision to leave the EU in a tightly fought referendum. Leave wins by 52 per cent, against 48 per cent for Remain.

Celebrations at Vote Leave headquarters in Millbank in June 2016 as the results from the EU referendum start to come in © Charlie Bibby/FT

13 July 2016: Theresa May becomes prime minister
After David Cameron steps down, home secretary Theresa May becomes Britain’s prime minister with a promise that “Brexit means Brexit”.

29 March 2017: Article 50 is triggered
The UK becomes the first country to formally trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, starting the clock on a two-year EU divorce process.

14 November 2018: Withdrawal Agreement concluded
UK and EU negotiators conclude a draft Withdrawal Agreement that spans over 500 pages and lays out the terms of Britain’s exit. The deal includes a “backstop” provision for the Irish border that ensures the free circulation of goods across the island of Ireland, with the intention that it will be used if no other solution can be found before the end of the UK’s post-Brexit transition period.

January to March 2019: UK parliament fails to ratify Withdrawal Agreement
Mrs May’s draft Brexit deal repeatedly fails to win a majority in the House of Commons and the UK is given a short extension as the original Brexit date of March 29 is missed.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte (left) and his then Belgian counterpart Charles Michel talk to Theresa May in April 2019 as the EU agrees to give the UK a six-month extension to its membership © Danny Gys/belga/dpa

11 April 2019: UK granted extension
EU leaders agree to give the UK a longer, six-month extension to its EU membership given the impasse in the British parliament over ratification. Brexit day is now set for October 31.

24 May 2019: Theresa May resigns
After multiple failed attempts to win support for the Withdrawal Agreement, Mrs May announces she will step down as prime minister and leader of the ruling Conservative party.

24 July 2019: Boris Johnson becomes prime minister
Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson becomes the new party leader and prime minister, defeating rival Jeremy Hunt. Mr Johnson, who was a key figure in the Leave campaign, says he will scrap the “anti-democratic” Irish backstop. 

17 October 2019: Reworked Withdrawal Agreement agreed
The UK and EU agree to replace the Irish backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement with new provisions that would keep Northern Ireland part of the UK’s customs territory, though subject to EU rules.

28 October 2019: Brexit delayed again
The EU gives Britain a further Brexit extension until January 31, 2020 as parliament sets a date for a general election on December 12. Following Mr Johnson’s election victory, the reworked Withdrawal Agreement is passed by the Tories’ strengthened majority in parliament in January 2020.

1 February 2020: Britain leaves the European Union
Brexit finally happens. But economic ties remain as before due to a transition period, which runs till December 31, agreed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement.

2 March 2020: Future relationship talks begin in Brussels
A 100-strong UK negotiating team begins talks with EU counterparts in Brussels, with the two sides up against the end-of-year deadline to strike a deal on the future relationship before the transition period expires.

Michel Barnier (right), the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, with his British counterpart David Frost in March 2020 © Olivier Hoslet/AP

19 March 2020: Barnier catches Covid-19
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier announces he has tested positive for coronavirus. As the pandemic sweeps Europe, plans for further physical negotiating rounds are indefinitely suspended.

15 April 2020: Barnier and Frost speak
Mr Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost hold a video-meeting and agree on the need to revive the negotiations, initially in a virtual format. Virtual rounds are held in April, May and June.

15 June 2020: EU-UK high-level conference
Boris Johnson has a stocktaking call with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel. The two sides agree to intensify talks to unblock core sticking points. Negotiators return to having meetings in person.

1 July 2020: Extension deadline expires
The legal deadline passes for Britain to request an extension to its transition period, confirming that the UK will leave the EU single market and customs union with or without a deal on January 1, 2021.

July to August 2020: Negotiators toil but sticking points remain
Intensified talks fail to deliver hoped-for progress and EU officials bemoan a “wasted summer”.

10 September 2020: Dispute over the divorce treaty
Negotiations are buffeted by the UK government’s announcement that it plans to break international law and override the Northern Ireland protocol agreed as part of its divorce deal. The internal market bill is published on September 9 and an emergency EU-UK meeting is held on September 10.

EU-UK relations sour after London announces it plans to override the Northern Ireland protocol © Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

1 October 2020: EU takes legal action
The commission launches infringement proceedings against the UK over the internal market bill.

16 October 2020: Johnson halts talks
After the July talks fail to overcome key sticking points, negotiators struggle to regain momentum. Angered by an EU summit statement calling on the UK to make “necessary moves” towards an agreement, Mr Johnson halts negotiations and tells Britain to prepare for a no-deal outcome.

21 October 2020: Talks get back on track
Mr Barnier and Lord Frost settle the terms for a resumption of talks, with negotiators planning to meet almost every day and joint work on legal text. Difficult sticking points remain on “level playing field” conditions to ensure fair competition, on fisheries and on governance arrangements for the agreement.

4 December 2020: Leaders get involved
Mr Barnier and Lord Frost call a halt to intensive talks in London saying they can get no further without political guidance from the highest level. Ms von der Leyen and Mr Johnson speak the following day, and decide a further attempt should be made.

7 December 2020: Hope on the internal market bill
Britain and the EU signal that they are close to resolving their dispute over the internal market bill. An agreement on this issue is confirmed the following day and Britain scraps plans to override international law.

9 December 2020: Dinner in Brussels
Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen meet for a dinner of scallops and turbot in Brussels but cannot overcome entrenched disagreements over fair competition rules for business. The following day Mr Johnson tells the British people that there is “a strong possibility” talks will fail.

Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels earlier this month © Andrew Parsons /10 Downing Street

11 December 2020: Both sides on the brink
Ms von der Leyen tells an EU summit that there is a “higher probability” of failure than success. Mr Johnson warns separately that it is “very, very likely” there will be a no-deal outcome. Negotiations continue in the meantime.

13 December 2020: Back from the brink
Ms von der Leyen and Mr Johnson confirm in a phone call that enough progress has been made for talks to continue as they vow to “go the extra mile”. Mr Barnier tells ambassadors the following day that an impasse had been overcome over EU demands for a “mechanism” to protect companies from unfair competition.

23 December 2020: Closing in on a deal
Having taken direct control over the talks at the start of the week, Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen negotiate a breakthrough on fisheries, paving the way for a deal. 

24 December 2020: Done deal
The deal is finally agreed after both sides spent all night haggling over quotas for different types of fish the EU fleet could catch in British waters.



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Numis sets out EU ambitions after record results

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Numis has picked Dublin for its new EU office to target European clients cut off by Brexit rules after the London-based broker posted record results for the first half of its financial year.

Numis said initial public offering volumes over the six months to the end of March were at their strongest level “for many years”, helping to more than double revenues in its investment banking division to £82m. The company advised on flotations including Moonpig and Auction Technology Group during the period. 

Overall revenue rose almost two-thirds to £115.4m, while pre-tax profit increased more than fivefold to £39.3m. 

Numis said mergers and acquisitions had also started to recover, driven by domestic and international buyers identifying attractive investment opportunities as the economic impact of the pandemic on the UK market eased. The broker is advising property group St Modwen on a £1.2bn takeover approach from Blackstone announced on Friday morning.

Alex Ham, co-chief executive, said activity for the rest of the year looked strong, with a number of IPOs and deals expected.

Some of these are likely to be European IPOs, despite the fact Numis has been unable to market to EU clients since the UK left the trading bloc. 

Numis has relied on so-called reverse solicitation — in effect, requiring EU clients to approach the broker for help — but plans to open a Dublin office next year to ramp up growth across Europe. Brexit had caused a reduction in institutional income from EU-based clients over the six-month period, it said.

“This is a departure for us in expanding beyond the traditional UK market,” said Ross Mitchinson, co-chief executive. “Dublin is a real focus for us to much better attack the European market.”

Mitchinson said EU regulators were being “tough but fair” about requirements on opening the office. “They want to see a well-capitalised business.”

The UK government and regulators have launched a series of consultations and proposals to deregulate and streamline rules to help British financial services groups after losing easy access to EU markets and clients.

But Mitchinson said these had not made much difference so far to Numis, adding that he did not “see the point” of a recent push to reduce the impact of Mifid II rules on research for small companies. “Institutions will not take a different approach,” he said. 

Numis will move to a new London office in September, which has been reconfigured with additional “Zoom rooms” to reflect the push for more flexible working in a future split between the office and home. 

Ham said he expected Numis staff to aim for two to three days a week in the office, with less need for international travel. But he added that many at Numis would be led by the needs of their clients, rather than any prescriptive working arrangement.

The average market capitalisation of its clients has almost doubled, in part owing to the rebound in the FTSE and a focus on “growth stock” clients such as Asos and Ocado. Numis also stopped working for businesses in the natural resources sector last year — partly owing to environmental, social and governance concerns about mining and oil — but these also tended to be smaller clients.



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Angela Merkel rejects US move to waive patents on vaccines

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Angela Merkel has expressed opposition to the Biden administration’s proposal to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines, saying it would have “serious implications” for vaccine production worldwide.

The German chancellor said the limiting factors in vaccine supply were “production capacities and the high quality standards, not the patents”.

“The protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and it must remain so in the future,” she added.

Merkel was responding to President Joe Biden’s top trade adviser Katherine Tai who said that while the US “believes strongly” in IP protections, it would support a waiver of those rules for Covid-19 vaccines.

A waiver would allow any pharmaceutical manufacturer in the world to make “copycat” vaccines without fear of being sued for infringing intellectual property rights.

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” Tai said in a statement on Wednesday.

The US would “actively participate” in negotiations at the World Trade Organization to hammer out the text of a waiver, she added, noting that those discussions would take time given the complexity of the issues involved.

Washington’s proposal has put the EU on the back foot. In recent months the bloc has resisted a push led by India and South Africa within the WTO for a vaccine patent waiver.

The US move received a cool response from Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president. She said the EU was “ready to discuss” how the proposal could help address the current crisis “in an effective and pragmatic manner”.

But she also insisted the priority was for vaccine-producing countries to lift barriers to exports and address supply chain interruptions.

Von der Leyen contrasted the EU’s approach with that of some allies: “Europe is the only democratic region in the world that exports vaccines on a large scale.” The US, a large vaccine-producing country, has reserved most of its homegrown jabs for domestic use.

The US proposal received a more positive response from Vladimir Putin, who said Russia, which manufactures the Sputnik V vaccine, would support the move. “A pandemic is an emergency situation . . . No doubt, Russia would support such an approach,” the Russian president said.

China’s foreign ministry said it looked “forward to having active and constructive discussions with all parties under the WTO framework in order to reach an effective and equitable agreement”.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said he was open to the idea of a waiver of IP rights, but “the reality is that the bottlenecks today are not price, or the patents”.

“You can transfer the intellectual property to pharma companies in Africa but they have no platform to make mRNA vaccines,” he said.

The idea of a waiver is also opposed by BioNTech, the German start-up whose joint venture with Pfizer brought the first messenger RNA-based vaccine to the market. The company said it would not ease current supply shortfalls and warned of the risks of opening up manufacturing to producers with no mRNA experience.

“Together with Pfizer, we are also working with various organisations to support the supply of vaccines to populations worldwide. And we will continue to provide low or lower middle-income countries with our vaccine at a not-for-profit price,” BioNTech said in a statement on Thursday.

“However, patents are not the limiting factor for the production or supply of our vaccine . . . The manufacturing process of mRNA is a complex process developed over more than a decade.”

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s chief executive, said the vaccine makers would have vastly expanded their capacity before any new players could make a real difference to supply. 

“If you were to start today, you’re going to have to start by hiring people. Those vaccines don’t fall from the sky,” Bancel told the FT US Pharma and Biotech Summit on Thursday. “There is no mRNA industry . . . When we hire people that come from traditional pharma, we have to train them in the art of mRNA.”

Matthias Kromeyer, a general partner at the venture capital firm MIG, one of BioNTech’s earliest investors, said a patent waiver would discourage future investments in the sector.

“If the US/EU/WHO suspend patent protection, they will lose a lot in the long run — namely the willingness of private investors to invest in such companies, many years before it is clear whether their technologies will succeed or not,” he said.

“This would mean the collapse of an entire industry that has just demonstrated it is the only one that can deliver a sustainable solution for this global medical, economic and social crisis. Without private investors, this innovative power will no longer exist in the future — what will we do then?”

The chief executive of Bristol Myers Squibb described the US government’s support for waiver as “very concerning” during an interview at the FT US Pharma and Biotech Summit on Thursday.

“Our industry depends on intellectual property protection in order to invest in R&D and make the investments needed to address crises like Covid,” Giovanni Caforio said. “The developments of the past 24 hours are very concerning and disappointing.”

As well as being important during the coronavirus crisis, Caforio said that IP protection is “critical for some of the areas of higher medical need where BMS invests like cancer care”.

Additional reporting by Leila Abboud in Paris

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UK ends damaging post-Brexit clash over status of EU envoy

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UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab has finally ended a corrosive diplomatic dispute over the status of the EU’s ambassador in London, a stand-off that had added to post-Brexit tensions.

Raab had previously refused to grant João Vale de Almeida full diplomatic status after Brexit took effect on January 1, arguing the EU was an “international organisation” not a state.

Brussels retaliated by shutting Britain’s head of mission to the EU, Lindsay Croisdale-Appleby, out of key meetings with EU officials, adding to Brexit tensions on trade and Northern Ireland.

But on Wednesday the issue was settled after a meeting between Raab and Josep Borrell, the bloc’s foreign policy chief.

Officials briefed on the deal said Vale de Almeida would now receive the same diplomatic recognition as his counterparts in EU missions in all other world capitals, including Washington and Beijing.

In a joint statement, issued at a G7 meeting in London, Raab and Borrell said they had reached an agreement based on “goodwill and pragmatism” on an establishment agreement for the EU delegation to the UK.

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While Vale de Almeida will enjoy full ambassadorial status, British officials said Raab had secured a deal “which gives us some of what we want” regarding the legal situation of EU staff in London.

EU officials will enjoy a largely similar status to other diplomats but with some downgrades: notably, under the agreement, they will not have immunity from prosecution for road traffic accidents.

Raab insisted on this carve-out following the death of Harry Dunn, a British motorcyclist killed in 2019 in a collision with a vehicle driven by Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US diplomat. She returned to the US claiming diplomatic immunity. 

But many British diplomats were dismayed at how long it had taken to resolve the dispute. “It was a stupid thing to do in the first place and we’ve had to back down,” said one former ambassador.

The diplomatic rapprochement was hailed in Brussels as a sign of a “new cycle” in UK-EU relations following the European parliament’s formal ratification last month of the trade deal between the two sides, which took effect on January 1.

There has also been a thawing in relations over the management of tensions in Northern Ireland, as London and Brussels look for ways to soften border checks on goods coming from the British mainland to the region.

Vale de Almeida will now get to present his diplomatic credentials to the Queen — an honour not available to the heads of international missions.

Boris Johnson has never recognised the EU as equivalent in status to a national government but Number 10 insiders insisted that the Foreign Office — not the prime minister — was responsible for the diplomatic dispute.

Meanwhile, Ireland and the UK announced plans for the first meeting in two years of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, a structure created under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement for the two countries to liaise on issues around Northern Ireland. 

“We are aware that there are sincerely held concerns in different communities in Northern Ireland in relation to a number of issues and firmly agree that the best way forward is through dialogue and engagement,” said Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis and Ireland’s foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney in a joint statement after they met in Dublin on Wednesday afternoon.

The meeting will take place in June, ahead of the July marching season in Northern Ireland, which could inflame tensions between unionists — who feel that their region’s status in the UK is under threat from post-Brexit trading arrangements — and nationalists, who are pushing for a vote on a united Ireland. 

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