The government is moving in this direction but obstacles remainby Georgina Wright / October 19, 2018 / Leave a comment
When it comes to Brexit, a key fear is that time is running out. From the moment the UK triggered Article 50, it had exactly two years to negotiate its exit from the EU. Five months to go and there is still no agreement. Meanwhile, the UK and the EU have barely begun discussing their future relationship.
Both sides agreed, in principle, to a transition period to allow more time. It would run from 30th March 2019 (that is, after the UK has formally left the EU) until the end of 2020 and can only happen on the condition that they have a withdrawal agreement in place. Now Theresa May is proposing a potential extension of the transition period by an extra year. There are many reasons why this could be complicated. But it is also necessary.
For starters, it is unclear that the UK parliament would support a longer transition period. Under the current proposal, the UK would effectively be a non-member: it would remain part of the single market and customs union, but would no longer be represented in EU institutions. It would still be consulted on new major EU legislation, but would no longer be able to vote. Meanwhile, the UK could still sign and ratify its own trade agreements—but these could only come into force once the transition period had ended. Hardly the “taking back control” some Brexiteers were hoping for.
There is also no guarantee that EU leaders would accept an extension on the same terms. The transition was supposed to end in December 2020—at the same time as the current five year EU budget. EU leaders are clear: if the UK wants to be part of the single market and customs union for longer, it will need to pay. How much is unclear. They would also almost certainly expect freedom of movement to continue for an extra year.
Then there are the EU’s trade partners. The EU is expected to send a letter to these partners asking that existing trade arrangements continue intact until the end of the transition; in other words, that they continue to treat the UK as party to these agreements even though it will have formally left the EU. While these partners are unlikely to object, they may try to extract further concessions from the UK, and even the…