COVID-19 pandemic: the EU’s policy response and its implications for the UK Contents


As of 26 March, the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the globe has infected at least 462,000 people and caused 99,000 deaths. The crisis has triggered an unprecedented political and policy response in the UK, across Europe and indeed globally. We have produced this Report to briefly summarise the EU’s policy and legal measures adopted in response to the COVID-19 crisis to date, and make an initial assessment of their implications for the UK during the transition period.1

The EU’s response has focussed on three broad areas: the movement of people and goods, including supplies of medical and protective equipment and restrictions on travellers’ entry into the Schengen zone (chapter 2), supporting the fiscal measures implemented by individual EU countries to limit the economic shock caused by the pandemic, including by tailoring EU State aid, budgetary and aviation rules (chapter 3), and accelerating the release of €29 billion (£27 billion) of direct financial support from the EU’s structural funds to help affected countries and businesses (chapter 4).

The UK will be affected by the EU’s policy and legal measures adopted in response to COVID-19 in much the same way as the remaining 27 Member States. It can access EU funding and apply the new flexibilities in the EU’s normal restrictions on government subsidies just as the EU27 countries can, but is expected to apply new regulatory measures such as the recent EU-wide export authorisation requirement for medical supplies.

However, there are important differences. For example, with respect to the entry restrictions into the Schengen Zone (see chapter 2), the UK can decide its own policies and controls on the admission of non-EU/EEA nationals. The current crisis is also highlighting the difficulties of the post-Brexit transition arrangement, which means the UK has no formal say in shaping new EU law. Important policy decisions that affect the UK directly, such as the Commission’s new “Temporary Framework” for special State aid measures (chapter 3), are being made in Brussels, at speed, but without formal UK input.

Lastly, the COVID-19 crisis has shone a spotlight on the Government’s approach to the post-transition relationship with the EU on cooperation in emergency situations, and in particular its apparent decision not to seek UK involvement in EU systems deployed during the pandemic, such as the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism, which the Cabinet Office praised as a way of “enhancing the UK’s capabilities to respond to crises” as recently as November 2018,2 or its Early Warning & Response System (EWRS) for pandemics (chapter 2).

This Report raises important issues about the EU’s response to COVID-19 and its implications for the UK. Unusually, we are publishing it before receiving the Government’s Explanatory Memoranda3 on the different EU proposals and documents we refer to in the chapters that follow. Our aim is to ensure that the information the Government provides, when preparing its Memoranda, is as comprehensive as possible and sets out clearly the impact of the EU’s response on the UK. Given the urgency of the situation, and the pace at which events are moving, it is of the utmost importance that the Government submits its Explanatory Memoranda without delay.

1 We do not cover policy or legal measures adopted by individual EU Member States, although UK Government decisions are referenced where relevant.

2 Letter by Oliver Dowden MP to Sir William Cash, 12 November 2018.

3 The individual EU documents and proposals considered in this Report, and the deadline for the submission of the accompanying Explanatory Memoranda by the Government, are shown in the Annex.

Published: 1 April 2020