Sterling rose after renewed hopes that a Brexit deal is still possible, as the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is heading to Brussels for a meeting with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. Heightened volatility is expected as the meeting could take place any time this week or over the weekend, with any rumours possibly to move the currency.

On Monday, the GBP suffered losses after news that the negotiations reached a stalemate, and the PM stated that he was willing to walk away. But, later, on Monday, as it was announced that Johnson would be travelling to Brussels for a face-to-face meeting with von der Leyen, the pound regained some of its losses. News about the meeting is not yet clear and markets expect the two to either meet on Wednesday or possibly Friday. On Thursday, a meeting of European Council EU leaders will also take place, and many predict that the meeting with von der Leyen could even take place in the weekend, to allow EU leaders to approve of a new mandate for the EU Commission President before the meeting.

With confidence dwindling and the possibility of a deal becoming more and more distant, markets will remain sensitive to any Brexit updates. While everyone was expecting Johnson and von der Leyen to discuss over the phone, the announcement of a physical meeting caught markets by surprise. At the current moment everyone hopes that a breakthrough could be reached by an intensification of negotiations at a more personal and political level.

What to expect for Sterling in 2021?

A lot depends on a positive Brexit outcome. The currency is also correlated with global business and economy, so any general positive upswings will also boost the pound. According to economists at Oxford Economics, global economy will expand and the UK will benefit from the trend, especially after being so badly impacted by the pandemic.

However, if both sides fail to reach an agreement, the Pound could fall below parity, as many believe there is much more downside risk than upside. There is a real risk to the outlook of the UK economy and the pound if a no deal outcome ensues, but, at the same time, there are multiple scenarios possible: a deal or no deal, as well as a so-called cooperative no deal and an uncooperative no deal. An uncooperative no-deal Brexit will be more disruptive than a cooperative no-deal Brexit, in which the EU and the UK will be able to cooperate on a number of pressing emergency issues.

The UK government announced on Monday 7th Dec. that they will remove those elements that the EU openly disagrees with in the possibility of a trade deal, including the law-breaking clauses of the Brexit Bill. However, the clauses might return if a trade deal is not agreed, which will point towards a hard, uncooperative no deal Brexit. In this scenario, the pound will fall to the lower end.

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While investors have been preparing for a Brexit deal as early as next week, official briefings on Thursday and Friday are expected to cause volatility. On Thursday, the pound fell as global markets turned cautious after a “media report that EU leaders will demand the European Commission publish its plans for what will happen if there is no deal,” Reuters reported.

On Thursday, EU leaders will address outstanding issues like fisheries and “level playing field” provisions as they meet via a video call. Executive Vice President of the European Commission Valdis Dombrovskis said: "We're in the final push. There are still important elements to be resolved, substantial work to do. We've seen many deadlines come and go but there's one we'll not be able to move - Jan 1. We're now in the last moments."

Bloomberg News reported that a new trade agreement between the UK and Canada, could come as early as Thursday: “Reports that the UK and Canada are very close to reaching a post-Brexit trade deal are undoubtedly good news for both economies, but with time dangerously running out on a EU-UK trade deal, sterling is struggling to react positively to the news.”

Thursday and Friday to create pound volatility

The Sun newspaper’s Nick Gutteridge said that France will be determined to retain its access to UK waters post-Brexit and if it does not move on fisheries this could create more anxiety for markets. The UK is said to expect a final push from various leaders in the summit as they put more pressure on the UK for more concessions. Thursday’s summit might have a negative impact on the pound as markets reconsider the possibility of a deal.

On Friday, EU Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will brief European representatives of the EU's 27 member states, and markets will be closely watched for any signs of a deal. UK Chief Negotiator David Frost had told Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday that a deal was possible as early as next week.

How the pound will react?

“Observers still expect a deal early next week or in the first week of December. Market participants are similarly not that concerned over the risk of No Deal Brexit at this point in time,” wrote MUFG strategist Lee Hardman. “There is likely to be a much larger pound move to the downside if both sides fail to reach a deal (-5% to -10%), while we expect a modest move to the upside for the pound if a deal is finalized (+1% to +4%),” he said.

Analysts at UBS noted that there will be a "meaningful bounce" in the Pound if a deal is signed: "The latest news flow points to an agreement being struck just in time for ratification by the EU Parliament. Given markets - and hedge funds specifically - are relatively under-positioned for such an outcome, we’d expect a meaningful bounce for GBP on even a confirmed ‘skinny deal’ outcome." But a positive outcome also means good news for the pound and the UK economy which they tend to benefit if the global economy is doing well. The UBS analyst stated: "This is intuitive given the degree of openness of the UK economy and bodes well for a recovery in global growth into 2021. Naturally, the link has weakened since the 2016 referendum, but cheap valuations offer some hope of at least a partial snap-back in compensation. And the UK economy stands to benefit more than most in 2021 as it was hit particularly hard by this year’s pandemic.”

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Sterling extended earlier gains after a report that the UK and the European Union could agree on a trade and security deal some time next week. Optimism regarding striking an agreement has given the pound fresh impetus, despite that time is running out.

Economists believe that Sterling could strengthen more by mid-2021 if a free trade agreement is reached, as officials are expecting news of some form of progress as early as Monday. British and European parliaments will still need to confirm the terms of the agreement before the transition period ends on 31 December. At the moment, investors remain hopeful, but the possibility of the talks stalling as major differences cannot be bridged is strong, and in such a scenario the pound would likely fall.

Newspaper reports suggest a trade deal is possible

During the week, various newspaper reports have suggested that a trade deal is "just days away" with the Telegraph saying that Ireland believes there are "landing zones" for an agreement and that France has accepted the restrictions to its fishing rights in UK waters after the transition period ends. The newspaper also reported that "the trade agreement could be announced as early as Monday, sources in Brussels suggested – but only if both sides made compromises on issues such as fishing and subsidy law." On Tuesday, the Sun newspaper said a deal could be expected next Tuesday, as the UK Chief Negotiator David Frost said to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to prepare for a trade deal on Tuesday, news that have helped lift the pound.

Despite positive but unofficial reports in British newspapers, both the EU and UK have not offered a definite answer about the status of the negotiations which means the possibility of a no deal is still a valid outcome with some analysts remaining very cautious. At the same time, the markets seem to have made peace with a possible no-deal scenario, so any news of a deal, no matter what that deal is, will lift the pound. However, a possible deal will only mean temporary and limited gains for the pound according to some analysts, while for others, a considerable rise should be expected.

Brexiteers feel stuck as no deal impossible

The UK is now trapped and will be unable to benefit from Brexit, said former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib. Habib, who attacked the PM saying that a no deal Brexit was not possible, said in an interview to Express.co.uk, that "We are already stuck, to some extent, in the gravitational pull of the European Union.” For hard Brexiteer Habib, a no deal Brexit would allow the UK to completely cut its ties to the European Union, but, unfortunately, this is not possible anymore. As he said, "We have a deal of some description from which we simply cannot escape."

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Sterling rose after a Bloomberg article yesterday (28 October) reported that a Brexit deal was closer into view as talks progressed. Both sides were participating in an intensive round of negotiations in London, and, on Thursday, the talks will move to Brussels. If more progress is made by 3rd of November, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will then have to negotiate a final agreement.

Today, though markets remain nervous ahead of the US GDP and ECB meeting as the escalating Covid-19 pandemic has triggered renewed fears of a double dip downturn. With a second lockdown in France and new restrictions about to be imposed in Germany, investors are on edge.

Pound rises on Brexit progress

European Union and UK negotiators managed to resolve “some of the biggest disagreements that have long bedevilled the Brexit talks, raising hopes that a deal could be reached by early November, according to people familiar with the discussions,” Bloomberg noted.

According to the article, sources said that the deadlock has been broken after seven months of negotiations, but traders will still need to see more solid evidence to be convinced of any progress. The sources reported that both sides are working on “the text of an agreement on the level competitive playing field and are close to finalizing a joint document covering state aid.” They have also “moved closer to deciding essential aspects of how any accord will be enforced,” the sources added.

The news pushed the pound higher against the Euro and the majority of its G10 peers. While markets remain cautious, some economists believe that there are positive signs for reaching a trade deal.

The Brexit news should offer support to a pound that has been very sensitive to Covid-19 developments, at a time where lockdowns are devastating economies. In the event of a second wave the pound will definitely remain sensitive and could weaken, and analysts say that positive Brexit news might not be enough to support the pound in the current volatile environment. In this respect the upside potential for the pound is seen to be limited, as many more issues remain to be resolved regarding the Brexit talks, despite recent news.

Despite the recent doom and gloom, there are potential business opportunities to be had with Brexit, “from fishermen to airlines and insurers,” according to an article.

Risks to the pound

Sterling has been sensitive to Covid-19 updates and Brexit news, and it will remain so. According to Pound Sterling Live, “An obvious risk for those watching Sterling exchange rates is that negative Brexit news - which would most likely be a stalemate on fishing - combines with 'risk off' market conditions to trigger substantial declines in value.” But the stimulus support from Central Banks might be enough to support world economies and protect from unexpected currency declines seen in the aftermath of the first wave of Covid-19.

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After over three and a half years of talking, fighting, delays and fearmongering, Brexit is going to happen on 31st January.

This is a cause for celebration for some, but for others it represents the start of great uncertainty – or worse still – the start of decades of decline for the UK. This may come down to the deal that we agree, or if there is a deal at all.

Which way it goes will still be debated and argued over the years to come, but what will happen after 31st January when Brexit is confirmed?

The Brexit deal

Firstly, let’s take a look at the key points of the deal itself. Currently being examined by the House of Lords, the main issues involve travel, money, health, the rights of citizens and of course, trade. The policies set out in the deal will potentially affect currency which can then further impact such things as property prices.

The main focus of the deal is to leave the EU customs union, meaning that the UK will have the freedom to establish their own trade deals with countries around the world.

A significant sticking point was determining how Northern Ireland would be affected, with Boris Johnson eventually replacing the Irish backstop with a new agreement that will begin in December 2020, after the transition period has ended. In summary, this includes a customs declaration system for goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, as well as continued access to the UK market for businesses. Northern Ireland also have the option to vote on their continued membership in this deal four years after the transition period.

Travel

After January 31st, travel plans for UK citizens travelling to EU countries will not be affected.

ABTA, the travel industry’s trade association has said: "If Parliament ratifies the Withdrawal Agreement before 31 January 2020, which it is on track to do, the UK will enter a transition period, meaning everything will remain the same and you can continue to travel as you do now until at least the end of December 2020."

After the transition, a visa similar to the American ESTA will be introduced, expecting to cost around £6 and last for a number of years.

All transport entering the EU, including ferries and cruise ships will not be affected but there may be an additional driving permit if you wish to use your own vehicle within your UK insurance policy in the EU.

Money

Savings are not expected to be affected after Brexit due to all bank trading agreements bought from EU firms being protected by the transition period. There may a short-term gain for savers if interest rates are increased when the Conservative Budget is announced next month.

However, British retirees living abroad may have their pension payments frozen, not benefiting from the EU payment increase, which is based on either inflation, wage increases or 2.5% - whichever is highest. On top of that, those living in the EU and being paid in GBP may lose earnings if the pound falls after Brexit.Property

With house prices showing an increase from November to December last year, estate agents are optimistic that Brexit will finally end the uncertainty that had led to prices stagnating – and falling in some areas - in the UK.

Even with renewed confidence, the February Budget could affect the market, with the potential for reforms for first-time buyers. No-deal is still a slight possibility, so foreign investors will be keeping a close eye on negotiations before parting with their money.

Most estate agents say that surveys have shown that potential buyers generally have overestimated the impact of Brexit so far, and with the political climate much calmer, expect buyers who were holding back to come forward in 2020.

Rental prices are forecasted to rise, due mainly to the lack of rental options on the market.

Currency

The value of the pound can go either way, with a lot of experts claiming the volatility of the past 3 years will calm and the pound will be more stable. Since the start of negotiations, the strength of the pound has been linked to a clean break that protected business, whereas the chaos of a no-deal Brexit has sent the pound down in value. Since the general election result, the pound has rallied due to investors being more comfortable with the prospect of a strong majority Conservative government.

However, with a lot to be done by the end of the transition period – including crucial trade agreements with the EU itself – there could still be choppy waters ahead for GBP. In fact, just this week it was revealed that there are fundamental disagreements between the EU and UK that will almost certainly require more than eight months of negotiations, which formally begin in March.

Trade negotiations

The obvious reason for any difficulties in the negotiations is that the EU believe that the UK should continue to follow some of the EU regulations in order to secure a free-trade agreement. This is mainly due to EU members, including France, asking for a level playing field to be maintained. Trade-offs will likely come into play as the transition period progresses, with a report recently claiming that the UK will allow EU fleets to fish in their waters if bankers and financiers are allowed favourable access to the EU financial markets. The issue with such trade-offs is that invariably they will affect certain demographics unfavourably, which can lead to more stand-offs. With such a tight deadline any significant delays could be disastrous and can bring the no-deal prospect back into the reckoning.

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Prime minister Boris Johnson wants to “get Brexit done,” but with Brexit the unresolved issue of the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU and other countries still remains and is expected to be one of the big concerns at the end of 2020.

If Brexit does happen, the UK will need to negotiate a free trade deal with the EU so it continues to enjoy tariff-free access to its market after the transition period, and will also need to negotiate and sign new trade deals with countries such as the US.

According to Johnson’s withdrawal agreement, the UK will continue trading with the existing terms until the end of the transition period which is due on 31 December 2020. He has already stated that, if he wins a majority, he will negotiate a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU which will come to replace the current arrangement at the end of 2020. The deadline for next year is considered among economists and politicians a very challenging one, as the time frame is limited and the subject matter demanding and complicated. As it is usually the case, trade negotiations take years, so it is similarly expected that Johnson’s trade agreement will be a difficult task, impossible to deliver as promised. Of course, it will be possible to extend the transition period, but this should be decided by 1 July.

As a Financial Times article notes, it is difficult to see the EU and the UK reaching a deal in as little as five months, especially when there’s legal and translation issues involved. A draft for an EU-Japan deal took four months and 10 days to prepare, “including ‘legal scrubbing’ and translation into 24 official EU languages — and this is viewed in Brussels as an example of the bloc moving at breakneck speed.”

In the case of Canada’s deal with the EU, this took more than five years to complete and another three before it came into force. For some, the UK-EU trade deal will be even more difficult as the two sides will attempt to establish a new relationship that seeks to replace an older one, while for others, the negotiation will be fast and quick as we are already in sync with EU regulations.

What is an FTA?

An FTA is a multinational trade agreement that creates a free-trade area between different states and determines the tariffs and duties on imports and exports in order to eliminate trade barriers, such as trade taxes or tariffs. While a customs union is more encompassing and requires all parties to have the same external tariffs, a free-trade agreement allows countries to establish whatever tariffs they wish, otherwise adopting a preferential treatment system.

If the EU and the UK are unable to reach a trade agreement within the specified time frame, then the UK will revert to World Trade Organization (WTO) terms – which means British exporters would have to face the same tariffs as other countries as the US or China. But even with a trade agreement, the privileges that are currently enjoyed under the customs union will be lost.  A trade agreement will mean more costs and more bureaucratic control for UK companies, which is why economists are warning that Brexit will damage the UK economy.

The UK is also in the process of rolling over the EU’s existing free trade deals with other countries in order to avoid losing tariff-free access to the EU after Brexit. The UK has signed 19 continuity deals with 49 countries. The UK’s biggest trading partners are the US and the UK, with the US being the UK's biggest single trading partner, and the EU accounting for 46% of UK exports. The problem with striking an FTA with the US is the obvious standards in food products, especially when in the US regulations are not as strict as in the EU, with the most obvious examples being genetically modified foods and chlorinated chicken.

At the moment, one of the most important Brexit outcomes is considered to be the resolution of a trade agreement with the EU by the end of next year, as the scenario of leaving without a trade deal will not only result in a political crisis for the government, but also an economic one for the whole of the UK.

Imports and exports

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With the EU asking for more concessions from the UK, the pound fell against both the dollar and the euro. Despite optimism that Britain and the European Union will be able to come to an agreement and strike a Brexit deal this week, the pound was hurt by the realisation that there’s still a long way to go.

On Monday, the PM's official spokesman told journalists that "Talks remain constructive, but there is a lot of work still to do." Similar were also the comments by Ireland's Tanaiste (deputy prime minister) Simon Coveney: "A deal is possible, and it's possible this month," Mr Coveney said. "It may even be possible this week. But we're not there yet."

Last week, Sterling rose higher on the possibility of the UK and EU finding common ground. However, the outlook is now more measured and expectations on Brexit negotiations are constrained, something that has helped to pull Sterling back down. With EU leaders fearing that Johnson will not manage to pass Brexit in Parliament, uncertainty will remain.

Getting Brexit done

In the meantime, in Brussels, both sides are trying to reach a Brexit deal before Thursday's summit of European leaders, despite the "big gaps" as senior EU official Michel Barnier called the existing differences between the UK government and EU. 

On Thursday (17 October), the two-day summit of EU leaders will begin in Brussels and is the last meeting scheduled before the Brexit deadline. On Saturday (19 October), there will be a special sitting of Parliament. In case there’s no Brexit deal approved by MPs and no agreement about the UK leaving with no-deal, Saturday will also be the day that the PM will have to ask the EU for a delay to Brexit under the Benn Act.

Both sides are willing to agree a deal before the EU summit on Thursday and Friday, and, hopefully, that will enable the government to introduce a withdrawal agreement bill to be voted in a special Parliamentary session next Saturday. However, many remain pessimistic, including EU officials, with one senior figure describing the possibility of reaching a deal at the summit "ambitious." According to Tony Connelly, Europe Editor for Irish state broadcaster RTÉ, "Following two days of intensive talks the two sides are still far apart on customs. The EU side continues to have grave concerns about the UK proposals to keep NI in the UK customs territory, with Theresa May's old Customs Partnership idea being recycled and adapted for NI.”

Before the European Council summit starting on Thursday, markets will be waiting to see the developments before commenting on the pound’s future. Markets remain hopeful as long as there are ongoing talks. However, both sides would need to come to an agreement on the issue of the Irish backstop, ideally avoiding a hard border with Ireland. 

According to The Times, EU negotiators have requested more concessions from the UK, with the EU’s Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, describing Britain’s proposals unacceptable. Barnier told David Frost, Britain’s chief negotiator, that “Mr Johnson would have to give further ground on a customs agreement for Northern Ireland,” if a deal were to be struck.

Boris Johnson needs more backing for Brexit deal

In order to pass a new Brexit deal through parliament Boris Johnson will need support from both Eurosceptics and pro-deal Labour MPs. He will need to win over all the 28 Tory “Spartans”, as well as get help from the DUP or Labour backbenchers.

In a loyal address after the Queens speech on Monday, Lee Rowley, a Conservative MP expressed his position on Brexit and how it was necessary to get it done: “If there is light at the end of the tunnel later this week, and heaven knows I hope there will be, we have a fundamental responsibility in this place to try and resolve this most vexed of problems and allow our despairing country to move on. For the health of our democracy and to restore faith in this most venerable of institutions, in my view we simply must get Brexit done.”

Eurosceptic Steve Baker, was positive of a deal as he said, “Boris has had a dramatic shift towards a free trade agreement that would leave us a self-governing nation … So now really, the devil is in the detail … I am really looking forward to being able to vote for a tolerable deal but, until we get the text, I cannot tell you what we are going to do.”

Others expect to see more in order to vote for a deal, including reassurances on Northern Ireland, workers’ rights and environmental protections.

Whether a deal is possible, it will be obvious within the next few days. The government will have to table a motion by Wednesday if it wants MPs to debate an agreement on the Saturday sitting. If the UK agrees to make concessions to the EU, there is the risk of the deal not passing through the House of Commons with the DUP and Brexit hardliners not supporting it.  

It is within this context, that foreign exchange analysts are not hopeful that a deal could easily pass in the House, something that will lead to another Brexit extension and a snap General Election.

Markets are now cautious as they await proof that the new Brexit deal can pass Parliament before bidding Sterling to rise higher.

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