Having secured a House of Commons majority of 80 seats over all other parties, the Government now has the necessary parliamentary votes to ensure passage of its Brexit legislation.
Now that it is clear that Brexit will happen on January 31 2020, attention must focus on the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union that will follow a transition period in which the UK follows EU rules without any substantive role in shaping them.
This transition period is currently scheduled to end on December 31 2020, and the Government has indicated a desire to enshrine this in legislation. However, under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement concluded between the UK and the EU, this exit phase can be extended, with the consent of both parties, up to the end of 2022. There are indications that the EU would consider extending the transition period and regards it as necessary and desirable if an ambitious new agreement is to be completed covering both trade and wider areas of cooperation.
No comprehensive free trade deal has ever been negotiated by the EU—or probably by any other major bloc—in a mere 11 months. Moreover, since such a treaty requires the approval not only of the Westminster and European Parliaments but also the 27 member states that will comprise the EU after January 31 2020, extending the transition stage may prove necessary—since these ratifications are likely to take at least four months. It is worth noting too that the transition period would have been almost twice as long had the May version of the WA been approved by Parliament and Brexit had occurred on March 29 2019.
But the Government’s stated determination to end the transition at the close of this year makes exiting the EU with no deal a real possibility, despite the many government and independent assessments of the economic harm this would cause, as well as potentially adverse impacts in other areas, such as national security.
The purpose of this paper is to outline a way forward that avoids a highly damaging crash-out of the UK’s existing legal rights and responsibilities vis-à-vis the EU and safeguards as many of the benefits as possible of our 47-year-old EU membership.
Accordingly, the Conservative Group for Europe, which advocates the closest practicable relationship between the UK and the EU going forward, publishes this analysis as a contribution to the debate about how to take such a vision forward after Brexit. By doing so, we can ensure that our prosperity, security and influence in the world, as well as the future of the UK, is best protected.