With the coronavirus continuing to affect the UK economy and the issue of securing a Brexit trade deal persisting, the British Pound is forecast to struggle, with investors’ growing increasingly anxious.
While worries about the coronavirus pandemic overshadowed Brexit temporarily, political concerns return as the government has highlighted its reluctance for a Brexit extension.
Brexit: No extension
With the transition period due to end on 31 December and with only three rounds of trade talks remaining, the UK would need to negotiate a trade deal by December 2020, especially when the government says that an extension would only "prolong the delay and uncertainty" around Brexit.
David Frost, the UK's chief negotiator and Michel Barnier, the European Commission's chief negotiator, after their Wednesday meeting via video conference, agreed on three weeks of talks beginning on 20 April, 11 May and 1 June. In a joint statement, they recognised that their work has helped to "identify all major areas of divergence and convergence", but further negotiations were needed "to make real, tangible progress in the negotiations by June."
But the UK government has clarified that no extension would be asked from the EU, despite recent calls by International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva to extend the period for negotiations and not "add to uncertainty" as a result of the coronavirus.
However, the prime minister's official spokesman said: “We will not ask to extend the transition period, and if the EU asks we will say 'no.' Extending the transition would simply prolong the negotiations, prolong business uncertainty and delay the moment of control of our borders. It would also keep us bound by EU legislation at a point when we need legislative and economic flexibility to manage the U.K. response to the coronavirus pandemic.”
David Frost has also similarly clarified the government’s intentions: “Extending would simply prolong negotiations, create even more uncertainty, leave us liable to pay more to the EU in future, and keep us bound by evolving EU laws at a time when we need to control our own affairs. In short, it is not in the UK's interest to extend."
The Prime Minister’s confidence in striking a satisfactory trade deal by the end of the year has been criticised by the opposition, with Liberal Democrat Sir Ed Davey saying that the refusal to extend the transition was "deeply irresponsible."
Concerns have also been voiced by the financial world. Economists and strategists have warned about the risks for the pound and have noted that uncertainty typically has driven investors to sell the pound against every other currency. Analyst at Thomson Reuters Richard Pace noted: “GBP dealers should fear July 1, when it will be too late to extend the Brexit transition past Dec. 31, 2020, and GBP would rightly suffer. The UK government has been vehement about not asking for an extension, and the UK parliament won't be able to force one this time, since Prime Minister Boris Johnson's huge Conservative majority will back his decision."
“Tough Times” for UK economy
It is not only the current uncertainty with Brexit, but also the coronavirus’ effects that will deeply hurt the pound and the economy. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said that the coronavirus will have "serious implications" for the UK economy, as the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) is expecting that the virus will shrink the economy by 35% by June. Sunak said that the government needed to be honest and that the OBR’s figures suggest that the UK is facing “tough times, and there will be more to come.”
While the government is "not just going to stand by" and will try to protect “millions of jobs, businesses, self-employed people, charities, and households," the effects of the lockdown cannot be minimised.
Robert Chote, the chairman of the OBR, said that a three-month lockdown followed by another three months of partial restrictions would see the economy declining sharply, a drop that would be the biggest "in living memory."
The International Monetary Fund has also warned that the virus would cause the UK economy to shrink by 6.5% in 2020, and the global economy to contract by 3%.
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