The government’s publication of its COVID-19 recovery strategy, together with guidance on working safely during the pandemic, has at least provided business with a starting point for planning a return to work. However, companies in many industry sectors remain unsure when and how they will be back in business. Brexit has been understandably overshadowed recently but in-house lawyers should also track the negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship as a no-deal Brexit remains a possibility.
On 11 May 2020 the UK government issued its COVID-19 recovery strategy setting out its roadmap to easing the restrictive measures put in place to control the virus. It stated that it would work closely with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to formulate a coherent, coordinated and comprehensive UK-wide response. The UK government envisages easing restrictions on businesses and individuals in three progressive steps, the first of which started on 13 May 2020. Subject to five key tests being met, step two will start on 1 June 2020 and step three on 4 July 2020. The dates and measures may change in response to the spread of the virus.
As part of measures to help businesses get back to work, the government published guidance on working safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes eight workplace-specific guidance documents. The Chancellor also announced that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be extended until the end of October 2020. Furloughed workers will continue to receive 80% of their salary, subject to the £2,500 monthly cap. From the start of August, they will be able to return to work part-time and employers will be asked to pay a percentage towards their salaries. Full details will be published by the end of May.
Practical Law has launched a new Global COVID-19 page, which brings together a collection of global resources focused on COVID-19, pandemics and business interruptions in 14 global practice area toolkits.
Brexit negotiations remain deadlocked. On 15 May 2020, the government and the European Commission published statements on the outcome of the third round of negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship, which were held via videoconference from 11 to 15 May 2020. The statements indicated that little progress was made on the most significant outstanding issues, such as the level playing field, governance and fisheries. The next negotiating round begins on 1 June 2020 and will last for one week.
The House of Commons Library published an insight article in April 2020 which stated, among other things, that a one-off extension to the Brexit transition period is possible. Such an extension can be for no more than two years. It would need to be agreed by a decision of the joint UK-EU committee before 1 July 2020.
Many corporates are in the process of setting net zero emission reduction targets and may consider using these commitments in their marketing campaigns. Claims of carbon neutrality (particularly where these are based on buying credits from offsetting schemes) are increasingly likely to be contested by campaigners who perceive them as “greenwashing”. The Advertising Standards Authority recently closed a case concerning complaints over Royal Dutch Shell’s claim in petrol pump advertisements that customers could “drive carbon neutral”.
The government has published consultations on the closure of the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and on the future support for low carbon heat. The first consultation will affect businesses who have a non-domestic RHI installation. Both consultations close on 7 July 2020.
Practical Law has published:
- A climate change toolkit that explain climate change risks, current and emerging legal requirements and how to address them.
- An overview of the key issues, trends and cases in climate change litigation.
- A note setting out practical steps for organisations to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions.
The Financial Reporting Council has published a report setting out the findings of a thematic review carried out by its Audit Quality Review team into audit quality indicators (AQIs). The review seeks to provide an understanding of the AQIs being used by the large audit firms for internal audit quality management purposes, along with their systems of monitoring and reporting. Its objective is to promote continuous improvement in audit quality.
Practical Law has published a new practice note, co-authored by Kathryn Cearns OBE, which covers the audit reforms proposed by the Kingman, Competition and Markets Authority and Brydon reviews, their impact and implementation.
Starting in Mid-June 2020, The Upper Tribunal (Tax Chamber) is scheduled to determine an appeal against the First-tier tribunal decision that a hypothetical contract between a personal service company had the characteristics of self-employment under IR35.
Key dates for your diary
2 June 2020
Expiry of European Patent Office time limits extended to this date due to COVID-19.
5 June 2020
Closing date for FCA consultation on proposals intended to enhance climate-related disclosures by listed issuers and clarify existing ESG disclosure obligations.
11 June 2020
- Closing date for BEIS consultation on its Reforming Regulation Initiative.
- Consultation on climate change agreements closes.