When the UK left the EU on 31st January this year a Withdrawal Agreement was in place, but most of the terms were yet to be agreed during an 11-month transition period.
Former Labour MEP Richard Corbett sets the scene for a Brexit that has only just begun: "While Brexit formally happened on 31 January, it was a ‘Blindfold Brexit’ – leaving the EU without settling on what will replace the myriad arrangements, laws and programmes that we were hitherto part of. Sorting that out was left for the post-Brexit transition period. During this period – which we are now in – the status quo applies, with Britain still subject to EU rights and obligations. But if there is no agreement by the end of the transition, currently set at the end of the year, then we will have the notorious no-deal Brexit." Yorkshire Bylines, 18 May 2020
- Already considered ambitious, the government was plunged into a national health and medical emergency, preoccupying all government departments.
- The transition period is the time to build a new, albeit divergent, partnership with our European neighbours. Around £42.8bn of trade passed between the UK and France last year, about 90% of that travelling via the Dover-Calais strait (RHA).
- Without a new trade deal from 1 January 2021 the UK’s trading relationship with Europe will cease, and the UK would be obliged to trade under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, risking increased costs, a sizeable bureaucracy and further hardship.
- For instance, around 30% of all food consumed in the UK is imported from the EU, but the freight industry has not been able to prepare for the new customs arrangements.
- The damage and disruption to our economy, our environmental standards and social policies caused by crashing out of the EU without a trade deal will be incalculable.
- The trading crisis would compound the turmoil caused by the pandemic into yet another a crisis, one that the UK government could avoid by making a one off request to extend by 31 June.
- POLLING: A poll by Focaldata in March 2020 found that the public would accept a delay to avoid a further calamity including 44% of Conservative voters, 27% Brexit Party voters, 43% Leave voters. Yet Government has been very resistant to an extension. Businesses up and down the country are facing existential threat when being asked to prepare for a no-deal exit. It is inevitable that public criticism of yet more chaos will build.
- NORTHERN IRELAND: in its most forthright intervention to date "the influential thinktank Institute for Government (IfG) said the transition period must be extended or a longer implementation period agreed for the new border arrangements in the Irish Sea. It warns that many businesses are simply focused on “staying afloat” during the coronavirus crisis and cannot be expected to concentrate on new trade arrangements – and suggests the government is underestimating the complexity of the new Northern Ireland arrangements.
- PROMINENT SUPPORTERS CALL FOR EXTENSION INCLUDING BREXITERS: High profile heads of institutions, former government advisers, trade associations, and expert commentators are raising their voices such as Alexander Temerko, (Conservative Party Donor), Isobel Oakeshott, Incorporated Society of Musicians, Road Haulage Association, Association of the Chocolate, Biscuits & Confectionery Industries of Europe, European Automotive Manufacturers Association (ACEA), British Irish Chamber of Commerce, and Institute for Government..
“The UK and the EU should extend the transition period or agree to a separate longer implementation period for the withdrawal agreement,” the institute warns in a new report. “The timetable for putting arrangements in place for the Irish Sea border was very tight even before Covid-19 hit Europe. But now coronavirus has slowed the pace of negotiations on the future relationship, delaying key decisions...."
Philip Rycroft, former chief civil servant in the Brexit department said: “it is simple common sense to ask for an extension of the transition period.” When you factor in “the huge economic uncertainties caused by the coronavirus pandemic,” a postponement is essential.
Bob Kerslake, former head of the civil service and later Labour Party adviser, agreed—as did Gus O’Donnell, Kerslake’s predecessor, who said “More time could lead to a better outcome for both sides.” “Clearly there has been much less time for negotiation than could ever have been anticipated.”
OTHER CRITICS TURN UP THE VOLUME ON NO-DEAL IMPACTS
- FORMER POLITICAL ADVISER: Nick de Bois, a former Tory MP who served as chief of staff to Dominic Raab when the latter was Brexit secretary, said: the public would find it “illogical” and “incomprehensible” to divert people and resources to Brexit trade talks in the middle of the pandemic. Dominic Raab ally calls for delay to Brexit talks, The Times, 5 April 2020.
- IMF: In April, IMF Chief, Kristalina Georgieva told the BBC that because of the "unprecedented uncertainty" arising from the coronavirus pandemic, it would be "wise not to add more on top of it" and warned that a no-deal Brexit would hit the UK economy by up to 5%. IMF head warns on Brexit trade deal failure, BBC 16 April 2020. Georgieva's observations were made before we learned that the pandemic would probably cause the economy to contract by 14% in 12 months.
- ECONOMIC CONTRACTION: This year would be the biggest annual decline on record, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data dating back to 1949. It would also be the sharpest annual contraction since 1706, according to reconstructed Bank of England data stretching back to the 18th Century. Bank of England warns of sharpest recession on record, BBC News, 14 May 2020.
- EMERGENCY SERVICES OVERWHELMED: A forum of emergency services and first responders has warned of burn out following floods, Novochock, terrorism, Brexit preparations, and Covid-19. ‘If we are to do recovery properly we do not have the space to start scaling-up a Brexit response too. This needs to be fed into HM Government thinking now. This isn’t pro/anti-Brexit – it is about being sensible for the recovery process and the health and wellbeing of our responders.’ No-deal Brexit planning would 'overwhelm' emergency response
- See also FAQ 8: What are the UK's arguments for and against an extension?
- 2020 mAY 23 - Transition extension advocates, Colin Gordon
- 2020 May 19 - No-deal Brexit planning would 'overwhelm' emergency response, Municipal Journal
- 2020 May 14 - RHA calls for fluid trade agreement to avoid disaster, RHA, 14 May 2020
- 2020 May 12 - Hauliers: transition period "must be extended", Yorkshire Bylines
- 2020 April 22 - Civil service grandees call for Brexit transition extension, Alex Dean, Prospect Magazine
- 2020 February 19 - Brexit Transition Period: Explainer, Institute for Government
- 2019 August 13 - How a no-deal Brexit threatens your weekly food shop, The Guardian