Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee (Northern Ireland)

The UK left the EU at end of January 2020. The EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement (an international treaty) requires a Joint Committee staffed by the EU and the UK to operate the Withdrawal Agreement going forward.

The Withdrawal Agreement contains specific measures that will apply in Northern Ireland after the transition period expires, i.e. from 1st January 2021.

The Joint Committee (amongst other matters) will oversee and operate these Northern Ireland measures.

The first meeting of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee will take place on Monday 30th March (by remote means).

The meeting will be co-chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP and Vice-President of the European Commission, Maroš Šefčovič.

The agenda will include four items:

1. Introduction and opening remarks from co-chairs

2. UK/EU Updates on implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement

3. Tasks and responsibilities of the Specialised Committees

4. AOB

The UK Delegation will include:

●   Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP

●   The Paymaster General, Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt MP

Brexit and COVID-19 measures (UK)

The UK left the EU at end of January 2020, and will leave the transition period at end of December 2020.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on 11th March 2020.

These two events are prompting substantive changes in many occupational, health and safety, and environment related measures in the UK (substantive measures are also being taken in other countries, and at EU level).

The UK’s Brexit measures are found here.

[the vast majority of the UK’s Brexit measures are unchanged since any update made in February 2020]

The UK’s COVID-19 measures are found here.

[the vast majority of the UK’s COVID-19 measures date March 2020]

The UK’s Brexit and the COVID-19 measures are rooted in law. Cardinal Environment Limited advises on occupational health and safety law and environmental law via Email Alert to subscribers to Cardinal Environment EHS Legislation Registers & Checklists. The next Email Alert on UK Registers & Checklists will be at end March (the monthly UK Email Alert as usual).

Subscribers are reminded that they can request Annual Review (a teleconference) on renewal of annual subscriptions.

Of particular note are –

(1) changes around borders

(2) changes around goods transport

(3) changes around people mobility, including across borders

(4) changes around workplace organisation, particularly additional requirements to keep the workplace safe and provide for home working

(5) temporary bans on the opening of some business premises on health grounds

(6) changes around worker employment (this Blog does not address detailed matters of Employment Law)

Coronavirus/COVID-19 measures (UK)

UPDATE : the general guidance for employers, employees and business includes these additional stipulations –

• businesses and workplaces should encourage their employees to work at home, wherever possible

• if someone becomes unwell in the workplace with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they should be sent home and advised to follow the advice to stay at home

• employees should be reminded to wash their hands for 20 seconds more frequently and catch coughs and sneezes in tissues

• frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products

• employees will need your support to adhere to the recommendation to stay at home to reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) to others

Last week saw a raft of measures and the first legislation compelling action. These are compiled online – here.

Of particular note to this Blog are –

(1) the mandated closure of some workplaces and all workplace canteens where food is sold – here plus law on the matter here (England) and here (Wales)

[note the workplace canteen exceptions in the law]

(2) the definition of key worker – found in the guidance for schools closure – here

(3) the definitions of “self-isolating”, “social distancing” and “shielding” and the cohorts these apply to

“Self-isolating” – here

“Social distancing” – here

“Shielding” – here

(4) the relaxation of drivers’ hours (I blog posted about this last week) – here

(5) changes to Planning Inspectorate site visits, appeals, inquiries and events – here

(6) changes to Courts and tribunals planning and preparation – here

[note there are also changes to HSE and Environment Agency, and other regulator, site visits etc which are published in their own online web resources]

(7) general guidance for employers, employees and businesses – here

(8) guidance on the cleaning of workplace surfaces – here

(9) shipping and sea ports guidance – here

(10) restriction of non-essential rail travel – here

[note the London Mayor has announced reductions in TFL transport and transport in London, including by driving, should be for essential travel only]

[transport by driving outside of London should also be essential travel only]

The advice for anyone in any setting is to follow these main guidelines.

1 The most common symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are recent onset of a new continuous cough and/or high temperature. If you have these symptoms, however mild, stay at home and do not leave your house for 7 days from when your symptoms started. You do not need to call NHS 111 to go into self-isolation. If your symptoms worsen during home isolation or are no better after 7 days, contact NHS 111 online. If you have no internet access, you should call NHS 111. For a medical emergency dial 999.

2 Wash your hands more often than usual, for 20 seconds using soap and hot water, particularly after coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose, or after being in public areas where other people are doing so. Use hand sanitiser if that’s all you have access to.

3 To reduce the spread of germs when you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, or your sleeve (not your hands) if you don’t have a tissue, and throw the tissue in a bin immediately. Then wash your hands or use a hand sanitising gel.

4 Clean and disinfect regularly touched objects and surfaces using your regular cleaning products to reduce the risk of passing the infection on to other people.

Environmental Taxes (UK)

The Finance Bill 2020 increases existing environmental taxes, amends the carbon emissions tax that is not commenced, and provides for a new packaging tax.

Vehicle Excise and Registration Tax

The government announced at Budget 2017 it would introduce a new regime for calculating a car’s CO2 emissions, known as the Worldwide Harmonised Light vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP). The WLTP applied from 1st September 2017. All EC certificates of conformity or UK approval certificates for new cars show CO2 emissions figures based upon the WLTP test procedure, in addition to those based upon the existing methodology (NEDC).

Schedule 1 to Vehicle Excise and Registration Act (VERA) 1994 provides the legislation for annual rates of duty. The Finance Bill 2020 amends VERA to facilitate implementation of the WLTP regime.

VERA is also amended to exempt all registered zero-emission light passenger vehicles registered from 1 April 2017 from the Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) supplement for light passenger vehicles with a list price exceeding £40,000, when their licence is renewed on or after 1 April 2020.

Air Passenger Duty (APD)

The rates for APD are set out in section 30 of the Finance Act 1994. The rates of APD for flights to Band A destinations are unchanged. Band B destination APD is increased – in force 1st April 2021.

Climate Change Levy (CCL)

The main rates of Climate Change Levy (CCL) are amended with effect from 1 April 2020. The reduced rate percentages that apply to the main rates of CCL payable by participants in the Climate Change Agreement (CCA) scheme, are also amended with effect from 1 April 2020.

The main rates of Climate Change Levy (CCL) are amended with effect from 1 April 2021. The reduced rate percentages that apply to the Climate Change Levy (CCL) main rates payable by participants in the Climate Change Agreement (CCA) scheme, are also amended with effect from 1 April 2021.

[ Budget 2016 announced that, from 1 April 2019, rates would become subject to ‘rebalancing’ to reflect changes in the fuel mix used in electricity generation. The increase in rates, from 1 April 2019, also sought to recover the tax revenues lost by closing the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme.

Budget 2016 announced that, alongside the rates increase from 1 April 2019, the reduced rates of CCL for qualifying businesses in the CCA scheme would be amended so that participants did not pay more in CCL than they would have if the rates were increased in line with the Retail Prices Index (RPI) as in previous years.]

[ Budget 2017 announced that in order to ensure a better consistency between portable fuels in the off-gas grid market, the CCL rate for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) would be frozen at the 2019-20 level in the years 2020-21 and 2021-22. For this reason, the reduced rate for LPG will remain set at 23 percent for the years 2020-21 and 2021-22.]

[ Budget 2018 reaffirmed the government’s commitment to continue with the rebalancing and the CCL rates with effect from 1 April 2020 reflect this.

Budget 2018 announced the amended reduced rates for 2020-21 would limit the impact on CCA scheme participants to an RPI increase similar to that in the year 2019-20.

Budget 2018 announced the amended reduced rates for 2021 to 2022 would limit the impact on CCA scheme participants to an RPI increase.]

Landfill Tax

Sections 42(1)(a) and 42(2) of the Finance Act 1996 to increase both rates of Landfill tax (the standard and the reduced rate) in line with inflation (rounded to the nearest 5 pence). The increased rates apply to any disposal of relevant materials made (or treated as made) at a landfill site in England or Northern Ireland on or after 1 April 2020. The increased standard rate also applies from the same date to any disposal of relevant materials made (or treated as made) at an unauthorized waste site in England or Northern Ireland. The standard rate will increase to £94.15 per tonne and the lower rate to £3.00 per tonne.

Carbon Emissions Tax

Part 3 of the Finance Act 2019 (which established the Carbon Emissions Tax – not commenced) is amended. If the Government decides to use the tax as its carbon pricing policy after the Transition Period, the tax would be commenced on 1 January 2021.

The UK remains in the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) until 31 December 2020. As set out in the UK’s Approach to Negotiations, the UK would be open to considering a link between any future UK Emissions Trading System (ETS) and the EU ETS, if it suited both sides’ interests.

In the event that there is no link agreed between a UK ETS and the EU ETS the UK would introduce an alternative carbon pricing policy.

The Government is therefore preparing both a standalone emissions trading system and a Carbon Emissions Tax.

Budget 2020 announced that legislation would be included in Finance Bill 2020 to: provide a charging power to establish a UK ETS linked to the EU ETS or a standalone UK ETS; and update the existing legislation relating to Carbon Emissions Tax.

The Finance Bill 2020 amends Finance Act 2019 to ensure that the tax would be ready to be operational from at the end of the Transition Period, if needed.

UK permit holders operating stationary installations would be set a tax emission allowance and be taxed on all emissions that exceeded this allowance on a carbon equivalent basis. The first emissions reports would cover 1 January to 31 December 2021 and the tax would be collected by HMRC annually. It is intended that the bills relating to the first reports would be issued in summer 2022. The tax would rely on data supplied by taxable installations under existing (and continuing) emissions reporting arrangements.

The EU ETS requires participants to obtain permits to emit and then to submit a report annually providing details of their activities across the previous calendar year, from which their emissions across the period are calculated. All greenhouse gas emissions are calculated on a carbon equivalent basis. The data on emissions will continue to be collected following the UK’s departure from the EU.

Much of the existing legislation supporting the EU ETS would, under a Carbon Emissions Tax, continue to provide the legal basis for the monitoring, reporting and verification of emissions, and the permitting of installations.

The Finance Bill 2020 also allows HM Treasury to make regulations which provide for the allocation of emissions allowances in return for payment under any future UK Emissions Trading System (UK ETS).

These include the powers for HM Treasury to establish a UK Emissions Trading System (ETS). This means that emissions allowances can be auctioned in any future UK ETS, as defined in regulations.

The Finance Bill 2020 also allows for the potential implementation of additional market stability mechanisms in a standalone UK ETS. As set out in the consultation, this could include a Cost Containment Mechanism (CCM) to respond to any significant short- term price spikes and an Auction Reserve Price (ARP). If implemented, the ARP would set a minimum price for which allowances can be sold at auction to provide a minimum carbon price signal.

[A response to last summer’s consultation on the Future of UK Carbon Pricing will be published over the coming months.]

Packaging Tax

The Finance Bill 2020 enables HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to prepare for the introduction of a tax on plastic packaging before it is formally provided for in law.

[At Budget 2018, the Government announced the introduction of a new tax on plastic packaging which has less than 30% recycled plastic.]

Sanitary and Phytosanitary Notification (UK WTO)

The UK is a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The WTO members operate amongst themselves an Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures.

The UK submitted (13 March) information (for circulation to WTO Members) to answer the matter of the ongoing implementation of the United Kingdom’s obligations under this WTO SPS Agreement during the transition period following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, and to set out the UK’s own SPS Regulatory System.

The UK ceased to be a member State of the European Union on 31 January 2020. The UK and the EU agreed a Withdrawal Agreement which provides for a time-limited transition period until 1 January 2021 during which European Union law, as implemented through the Withdrawal Agreement, will continue to apply to and in the United Kingdom.

This means that the European Union SPS regime continues to apply in the United Kingdom during the transition period and, following that, the United Kingdom will apply its own SPS regime.

The United Kingdom Parliament legislated to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 by means of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The 2018 Act preserves, and incorporates into domestic law, those elements of European Union law which will apply in the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period.

The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 in turn implements the Withdrawal Agreement (which provides for the transition period) including by amending the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to reflect the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement.

The UK SPS Regulatory System is set out in the Notice – here

The UK Government is responsible for matters pertaining to the SPS Agreement and international trade. However, powers to implement, regulate and assure food safety, animal and plant health including matters relating to import and export, are devolved by the UK Parliament to the respective administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (collectively referred to as the Devolved Administrations).

Temporary Guidance re Drivers (COVID-19 UK)

UPDATE : the government instructions (dated 20 March) are here

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) bulletin service issued a notice re drivers on temporary arrangements for hours of work and access to welfare facilities – here

(1) All drivers must have access to welfare facilities in the premises they visit as part of their work.

More information is here

(2) The Department for Transport (DfT) announced a temporary and limited relaxation of the enforcement of drivers’ hours rules in England, Scotland, and Wales for the drivers of vehicles involved in the delivery of:

• food

• non-food (personal care and household paper and cleaning)

• over the counter pharmaceuticals

Driver safety must not be compromised, and they should not be expected to drive whilst tired.  Employers remain responsible for the health and safety of their employees, other road users, and anyone involved in loading and unloading vehicles.

Further information is here

Freight transport COVID-19 guidance is here

EU Readiness Notices (EU Brexit)

The UK is exiting the transition period on 31st December.

The European Commission is reviewing – and where necessary updating – the over 100 sector-specific stakeholder preparedness notices it published during the Article 50 negotiations with the UK.

The documents (updated so far) are published as ‘notices for readiness’ for 1st January 2021 –

(1) Air Transport – here

(2) Aviation safety – here

(3) Consumer protection and passenger rights – here

(4) Cosmetic products – here

(5) Animal feed – here

(6) Food law – here

(7) Industrial products – here

(8) Medicinal products for human use and veterinary medical products – here

(9) Movements of live animals – here

(10) Online sale of goods with subsequent parcel delivery – here

(11) Plant health – here

The transition period ends on 31st December, unless it is extended by agreement.