When the UK officially left the EU in late January and entered the transition period, there were concerns that 11 months would not be enough time to work out a post-Brexit trade deal.
Those concerns have only intensified as efforts by the UK and the EU have deviated from the Brexit negotiations and towards tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
If there was little time to conclude a satisfactory trade deal before Covid-19 dominated the attention of governments around the world, there is now even less time to conclude an agreement that will damage Brexit to the UK economy will decrease as much as possible.
The corona virus is already costing billions, Britain cannot afford another major economic blow at a time when it hopes to recover from what the Chancellor of the Treasury Rishi Sunak predicts will be a “significant recession” .
There is a mechanism for gaining more time in the Brexit negotiations, with the possibility to extend the transition period and thus postpone the moment when the UK will properly leave the EU and experience the consequences of becoming alone.
However, one of the first things that the Boris Johnson government did after gaining a significant majority was legislator to avoid asking for an extension , with which they have tied their own hands to demonstrate their determination to have Brexit ready by the end of 2020.
Now that the corona virus is diverting attention from the Brexit talks that were already on too tight a schedule, should the government reconsider its position on extending the transition period?
David Henig, a former British trade negotiator, believes extending the transition period would provide good insurance at a time when the government really needs to focus on something other than Brexit.
The negotiations will take a lot of time and attention when they are scarce as a result of a global pandemic that kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
The chance to buy some extra time and move trade talks should be seen as a valuable opportunity to tackle the virus without worrying about Brexit while having more time to make a good deal.
Negotiations were already moving towards a bare-bones trade deal that would be more economically damaging to the UK than a more elaborated one. Extra time to negotiate means more details about the trade agreement and less economic damage from Brexit.
No one doubts that this government is committed to removing the UK from the EU. Boris Johnson may have broken his promise to complete Brexit on October 31, “do or die,” but one of the first things he did after the general election was to lock himself in to leave as soon as possible.
A global pandemic is an extraordinary event. Extending the transitional period because of the coronavirus does not mean that the government is trying to frustrate Brexit, but that it is committed to doing it right and not quickly.
Despite recommendations to extend the transition period, the government is sticking to its current course and is adamant it will not try to postpone Brexit.
Without a change of position, there are no circumstances that would lead the government to seek or agree to an extension if it is offered by the EU.
Conservatives should repeal their own legislation, which would be possible with a successful vote in parliament, and Johnson has been warned that he can get a backbench rebellion if he tries .
The government does not want to risk being subject to EU legislation drafted in 2021 to map out a post-coronavirus pathway that would benefit the 27 remaining Member States, but perhaps not the UK.
An unlikely supporter of the government’s decision not to seek an extension of the transition period is Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer, who said he did not see how to close a deal in December, but insisted that Johnson hold on to his claim that it was possible .
Starmer’s comments are less of an endorsement of the government’s Brexit strategy and more of an attempt to stick to their words and manage its consequences.
Although the UK is in the transition period, it is still subject to EU law but has no say in how legislation is created. Leaving the union has the fairly obvious effect of losing the privileges of membership.
The EU has said that the decision to seek to extend the transition period lies with the UK.
The deadline to extend the transition period should be agreed by the UK and the EU before 1 July This means that the opportunity to postpone Brexit will close soon. The duration of the extension and other conditions, such as the UK’s financial contributions to the EU, should be determined before then.
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This is not a situation where more time can be allocated at the last minute. If July 1 comes and goes without an extension being agreed, there will be another handful of months on the clock and no prospect of delay.
Closing a trade agreement with the EU within 11 months would always be a difficult task. Other EU trade agreements with countries such as Japan, Canada, South Korea, Singapore and Ukraine have taken years to negotiate and fully implement .
If the UK expects their deal to be negotiated and ratified within a year, it would be very difficult. To conclude a detailed trade agreement at that time is considered impossible, and even the conclusion of a bare-bones agreement would be impossible due to the coronavirus’s derivation.