Theresa May admits longer Brexit transition period being considered

Suggestion likely to enrage Brexiteers

Jon Stone
Thursday 18 October 2018 09:28 BST
Theresa May admits longer Brexit transition period being considered

Theresa May has confirmed that she is considering asking the EU for an extended Brexit transition period in a bid to break the deadlock in talks.

The Prime Minister is understood to have raised the possibility of a longer period in meetings with EU leaders yesterday, but Downing Street was previously tight-lipped about the exchanges – which are likely to enrage Tory eurosceptics.

Arriving at the second day of the European Council summit in Brussels Ms May told reporters that the option had emerged to extend the controversial period, but that it would only be for “a matter of months”.

The period – during which the UK would stay completely tied to EU rules without any say on them – is hugely unpopular with Brexiteers, who believe it would make Britain a “vassal state” of the bloc.

On Wednesday evening European Parliament president Antonio Tajani told reporters the Prime Minister had “mentioned the idea of an extension of a transition period as one possibility that is on the table and would be looked into” in a meeting with him and the 27 EU leaders.

Other Brussels sources confirmed to The Independent that the PM had also raised the policy in bilateral meetings with top EU officials, and that British negotiators had been sounding out the possibility of extending it in negotiations for “months”.

The transition period as currently negotiated would begin when Britain leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 and continue until the first day of 2021. During it practically nothing would change for the UK – Britain would continue to implement all EU law, stay in the single market and customs union and under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

The UK would however not be represented in EU institutions like the Parliament, Council, and Commission and would therefore have no say in drawing up the rules.

“A further idea that has emerged – and it is an idea at this stage – is to create an option to extend the implementation period for a matter of months – and it would only be for a matter of months,” the Prime Minister told reporters on the summit’s doorstep.

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“But the point is that this is not expected to be used, because we are working to ensure that we have that future relationship in place by the end of December 2020.

“I’m clear that it is possible to do that and that is what we are working for, and in those circumstances there would be no need for any proposal of this sort and I’m clear that I expect the implementation period to end at the end of December 2020.”

Most trade experts and people in Brussels agree the current 21-month period will realistically not be enough time to negotiate a full free trade agreement between the UK and EU, and that an extension is inevitable. If the transition expires before a new trade deal was ready the UK would yet again face the prospect of a no-deal.

One senior UK government official, speaking in the margins of the summit, said: “If you were literally jotting the I’s and crossing the Ts on the future relationship you could extend the implementation period while you complete the negotiation process."

But extending the transition would also extend the period during which the UK was paying into the EU budget – meaning the Brexit divorce bill is likely to swell by billions of pounds in the event the UK negotiates an extension.

The transition period would only come into effect if the UK negotiates a withdrawal agreement with the EU before it leaves. Otherwise a no-deal occurs on 29 March 2019.

Ms May requested a transition period of “around two years” in her Florence speech last year and was granted 21 months by the EU.

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