Friday, 26 January 2018

Get used to an eternity in Brexit limbo

According to The Telegraph British officials are in discussions with Brussels about extending the Brexit transition period to almost three years. "The official Government target for transition is “around two years” but many senior Whitehall officials remain privately concerned about the practicality of such a short transition, given potentially massive changes that would be required by a “hard” Brexit".

The Telegraph understands that "although it is not formally Government policy, Britain has discreetly begun sounding out senior EU figures over whether transition could be extended amid growing disarray within the Cabinet over the ultimate terms of a long-term deal with the EU".
The EU has signalled that it is in no mood to grant such requests. The suggestion that UK might ultimately seek a three-year transition period would be likely to face steep political opposition, since it would take the government within just a year of the next General Election.
However experts have warned that the amount of work needed to be completed inevitably pointed to an extension. Charles Grant, the director of the Centre for European Reform think-tank, said yesterday that he expected the transition to last "three to five years" in practice.
He said: "Both sides are pretending that the transition will be short – May because she want to keep calm the eurosceptics who are keen to escape the EU’s regulations quickly, and the EU because any transition that stretches beyond the current seven-year budget cycle (ending December 2020) would require a new and difficult negotiation on money. But it will need to be several years longer because of the time that will be needed to negotiate the complexities of the future relationship and to build new physical infrastructure at ports".
Here's where chickens come home to roost. It is a certainty that two years will be insufficient. We are a presently racing up to a year since Article 50 was invoked using existing financial arrangements and thus far have accomplished very little. There is zero chance of negotiating an entirely new relationship in two years. On present form we are looking at substantially longer and it definitely will require a new negotiation on money in order to avoid the cliff edge. 

Following that we are looking at yet another limbo as we negotiate an actual implementation period for whatever is agreed in between. It could be five years or more from now before a single thing changes. 

It may be that it runs on the doctrine of nothing is agreed until everything is agreed but then there is also the possibility that a number of the peripherals will come into force sooner; Agreements on aviation and nuclear issues. Agriculture and fishing is likely to be a full blown trade negotiation. 

In fact, we could be well into 2021 before we have any clear indication as to what the regulatory model will look like. Until then the government can only restate its vague aspirations, unable to give any guarantees. 

Meanwhile anything could happen on the domestic front. The government will be keen to conclude the substance of the deal before the next general election but the chances of that seem vanishingly small. Both sides may be keen to avoid a protracted exit process but unless the UK is prepared to bite the bullet and stay in the EEA it seems unrealistic to expect anything else.  

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