The pound has regained its momentum since yesterday, after the positive news of new US Federal Reserve stimulus and the latest post-Brexit trade talks between the EU and the UK.

Sterling rose after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said yesterday that there is a "very good chance" a trade deal will be made with the EU. Both Johnson and the EU Commission President Ursula von Der Leyen agreed that there will not be an extension to the Brexit transition period, which will end on 31 December 2020. The pressure is now on both sides to agree on a post-Brexit trade deal, so the UK does not leave the bloc without a deal. If the UK leaves the bloc without a deal, then Britain will revert to World Trade Organisation terms, which will mean that the UK would have to pay high tariffs and quotas at a time when the country’s economy is dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fresh Momentum injected into the negotiations

According to Reuters, the hour-long video call on Monday between Johnson and the EU Commission’s von Der Leyen, “has injected fresh momentum” into the negotiations, as “people on both sides with knowledge of the conversation,” attested. The “EU inferred from Johnson’s contributions that he is willing to soften his position and European officials told him they are ready to do the same.” After the call, Johnson said: “I don’t think we are actually that far apart -- what we need to see now is a bit of oomph in the negotiations. The faster we can do this the better: we see no reason why you shouldn’t get that done in July.”

Obstacles Remain

Johnson’s latest communication with the EU comes after three months of trade talks which have ended in deadlock. However, things might not be completely resolved just yet, as EU Council President Charles Michel warned that the EU will not “buy a pig in a poke” as it was not in any hurry to reach an agreement. He said: “We won’t just speed up. We have to remain focused on content and consequences.” While the UK has been pushing to speed up the discussions, the EU wants to make reasonable steps, with the next discussions to resume on 29 June. Johnson explained that he is against the talks “going on until the autumn, winter, as perhaps some in Brussels would like.”

Both sides have failed to reach an agreement on a free-trade deal as well as find common ground when it comes to certain EU standards and demands regarding fishing rights and security which the UK believes are binding it to EU rules. Also, the UK continues to refuse to accept the power of the European Court of Justice to settle any disagreements between the two sides.

Pound Remains Unpredictable

With Brexit negotiations in the background, Paul Meggyesi, Head of FX Research at JP Morgan noted that the pound’s trajectory would remain unpredictable. He said: “GBP is liable to become ever-more idiosyncratic as the UK nears the business end of the entire Brexit process, the last six months of the transition period, with still a trade deal to be negotiated. This puts GBP at the mercy of unpredictable Brexit news flows, and investors should be prepared for potentially quite violent swings in GBP as the market tries to benchmark probabilities of the potential outcomes and eventually moves from valuing GBP on a probability-weighted basis to pricing a central scenario and then the eventual outcome itself.”

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British businesses conducting international trade and transferring their funds cross border regularly are increasingly worried about Brexit and the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Boris Johnson has been warned that the current trade talks are failing and that he needs to press the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and EU governments to focus their attention on the negotiations in order to reach an agreement with the British government.

The prime minister has returned to Downing Street on Monday, and he needs to act fast in order to rescue the negotiations before 31 December when the UK will leave the single market and customs union. Both the British government and the EU have agreed that they need to see progress by June, while the UK government has said that there is a possibility to leave the EU without a deal.

The two sides will be meeting again on 30 April. The UK’s chief negotiator David Frost has rejected an extension of the transition period as the government is confident that it can agree on a free-trade deal.

The prospect of no-deal Brexit

However, the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal has become even more real as there are only two rounds of video-conference talks left, while senior figures from both sides agree that delivering a deal is now highly unlikely. An EU official has also noted the added problems of having to communicate online: “You don’t see all the faces of the people around the table; you don’t see the body language, you cannot have discussion in the margins. But having said that, this is how we are working now; we need to make the best of it.”

Last week’s talks have not been progressing successfully either, as there was disagreement between the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his British counterpart, David Frost. Barnier pointed out that UK officials failed to engage and instead “listened politely” to the EU’s proposals. As he said: “I regret it, and this worries me.” According to the UK, despite their commitments to maintain high standards, the EU rejected proposals regarding the removal of certain trade barriers. Additionally, the UK disagrees with the central role that the European court of justice will play in dispute settlements.

In regards to the issue of Northern Ireland, there are concerns whether the UK will implement the Northern Ireland protocol  in the withdrawal agreement in order to avoid a hard border in Ireland and maintain checks on goods travelling from Britain to Northern Ireland. An EU official said: “You need to have customs checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland, veterinary controls, a VAT system needs to be put in place.”

UK government not seeking an extension

The UK government has warned EU leaders that they need to change their position if there is going to be a post-Brexit trade deal. The PM believes that there will not be an agreement unless the EU recognises the UK as “an independent state.”

Michael Gove, Cabinet Office minister, has also told MPs that the government will not seek an extension to the transition period, which ends on December 31. He said that extending the period will only force Britain to make a financial contribution to the EU budget which “could be spent on our NHS.” He added that the EU has failed to recognise the UK’s unique status and instead has treated Britain “like the Ukraine,” as if it were a country seeking closer relations with the bloc.

 

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