Recent chaos in the negotiations shows that a two-year “implementation period” is entirely unrealisticby Beth Oppenheim / December 5, 2017 / Leave a comment
Yesterday was the most chaotic day yet in the Brexit negotiations, with Theresa May caught out on the Irish border issue, unable to move without isolating the DUP and hard Brexiters on her backbenches and in the cabinet. Whether a solution will be reached remains to be seen. But the unfolding chaos drilled home a lesson that has been apparent for some time: Brexit is highly complex, and requires a slow pace so as to provide maximum certainty.
After mounting pressure earlier this year, May conceded that she would seek a transition period to bridge the gap between leaving the EU in March 2019 and beginning a new arrangement, to give government departments and businesses time to prepare for the change. In her Florence speech in September, she called for an “implementation” period that would be both “strictly time-limited” and last “around two years.” She proposed that during transition, access to each other’s markets would continue on current terms, tacitly admitting that the UK would continue to abide by EU rules and regulations, albeit relinquishing its power to change them.
A transition period is necessary to allow time for negotiation, ratification and implementation. But here’s the thing. There is significant evidence that two years will not be sufficient—five years would be a more realistic timeframe.
Negotiating an international free trade agreement takes time—the EU-Canada free trade agreement, CETA, took seven years to negotiate. The UK wants a far more ambitious bespoke agreement, which also includes services. The more tailored the deal, the more protracted the negotiations will be. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said recently that he thought it would take “several years” to reach a final agreement. People with experience of trade negotiations tend to agree.
Even if the UK manages to fudge the border issue and reaches “sufficient progress” in negotiations at the next EU summit, detailed trade talks may not even start until early 2019. This is in stark contrast to the predictions of Brexit minister David Davis and international trade secretary Liam Fox. Davis has said a bilateral trade agreement with the EU could be agreed by March 2019, and Fox remarked that a post-Brexit free trade deal should be the “easiest in human history.”
We can expect a significant lag before the agreement comes into force. EU free…