Legal experts are divided on the plausibility of a last-minute transition extensionby Alex Dean / February 7, 2020 / Leave a comment
Britain has left the European Union and entered a standstill transition period. We now have only months to negotiate future terms before we face a second cliff-edge. No sophisticated trade deal has ever been done so quickly—so we urgently need more time.
The Withdrawal Agreement struck with the EU says that if the UK lodges a request by July then an extension is possible. Yet the prime minister Boris Johnson is bullish about not extending: it has even been written into UK law that we will not do so. A crucial question is: what happens if we remain in denial and miss this date? If we reach November and are staring over the cliff, could we in practice still reach an agreement to delay? Or is 30th June really the last chance?
The answer could determine whether the UK crashes out at the end of the year. Having spoken to politicians, ambassadors, lawyers and academics, my sense is that some improvised agreement could probably be struck. But it is far from certain, and any fudged extension will be a product of profoundly unusual technical wrangling, taking us even further into the legal and diplomatic unknown. This issue may reach a head in the months to come.
Of course Johnson, for his part, does not recognise the problem. “Our manifesto made clear that we will not extend the implementation period,” he has said, while banning staff from even using the phrase “no deal.” But the EU’s agreement with Canada took more than seven years. What if we do need last-minute help?
In the view of some, including Jean-Claude Piris, formerly the EU’s chief lawyer, Britain will simply fall off a second cliff edge. “The 30th June 2020 is a firm deadline,” he said, “provided for by article 132(1) of the Withdrawal Agreement. This is an international treaty which has now been ratified by both Parties and is legally binding for them.” That is the EU’s current line too and has been repeated by Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier. The exit terms agreed last year would be in force but with no deal for the future relationship.
Others however are less sure. If Britain requested an extension later, either to ratify or to continue thrashing out terms, might the EU find some…