Brexit: Britain asks EU to consider longer transition period

Period should be as long as needed for UK to prepare, Government says

Jon Stone
Brussels
Wednesday 21 February 2018 12:35 GMT
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Brexit: Britain asks EU to consider longer transition period

The British government has asked the EU to consider granting the UK a longer Brexit transition period than the one proposed by Brussels, documents drawn up by negotiators show.

The European Commission has said the transition, during which the UK would be bound by EU rules despite being outside the bloc, should end on 31 December 2020, but UK negotiators said on Wednesday that they want to discuss the possibility of a different duration – amid concern that there may not be enough time to prepare for Brexit.

“The UK believes the Period’s duration should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin the future partnership,” negotiators said in an explanatory note leaked ahead of its planned publication.

“The UK agrees this points to a period of around two years, but wishes to discuss with the EU the assessment that supports its proposed end date.”

In a proposed amendment to the transition agreement – which is currently being pored over by negotiators on both sides – the UK has bracketed out "[31 December 2020]", which was the EU's suggested finish point.

Notably, some previously-voiced British concerns about the nature of the transition, including the application of free movement to EU citizens who come to the UK during it, are absent from the document – potentially suggesting the UK may be softening its opposition to the other terms presented by the EU.

The development on the end date confirms reports by The Independent last month that the UK was considering asking for a longer period because it was not sure that the duration proposed by Brussels would give it enough time to prepare.

What is the Brexit 'transition'?

Depending on the future trade deal struck with Brussels the UK might have to significantly overhaul the physical infrastructure of its ports and airports to cope with a dramatic increase in customs checks, as well as do other work that has yet to actually begin nearly two years after the referendum.

The transition is highly controversial with Conservative Brexiteers, who say that it amounts to making Britain a "vassal state" of the EU where it would follow EU rules without having any say over what they were. Brexit Secretary David Davis has however said the period is a “bridge to the future” and only amounts to a “short period” in the EU’s orbit.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said he wants the transition to end on 31 December
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said he wants the transition to end on 31 December (BBC)

Theresa May said in her Florence speech last year that she wants a transition period of “around two years”. Though the EU’s suggested date appears to broadly fit with the lower end of the PM’s proposal, UK officials are worried that the UK economy might require a transition that stretched towards the upper end of “around two years” into 2021.

Both Michel Barnier, the European Commission's chief negotiator, and Theresa May have said the want the period to have a definite end-date. The EU's proposed date coincides with the end of its multi-year budget round – simplifying financial matters.

A UK Government spokesperson previously told The Independent that the two-year duration was a "current assessment" of how long was needed.

On Monday a letter signed by 62 eurosceptic Tory MPs demanded tighter restrictions on the conditions of the transition period. The suggestions appear to be absent from the UK's amendments.

The European Council has previously said there is “flexibility” in the length of the transition period length in the event a trade deal cannot be struck in the agreed timeframe.

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