Monday 18 March 2019

Worst of Brexit to be postponed for two years in major climbdown by May

British Prime Minister Theresa May greets the Dutch PM Mark Rutte outside 10 Downing Street yesterday. Photo: PA
British Prime Minister Theresa May greets the Dutch PM Mark Rutte outside 10 Downing Street yesterday. Photo: PA

Shona Murray

The worst impact of Brexit will be postponed for at least two years after a major climbdown by UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

The British government will continue to operate under EU laws and regulations during a two-year transition period, according to a draft legal text seen by the Irish Independent.

The UK is also potentially eyeing a longer transition - suggesting it wants a longer bridging phase that lasts until the complexities of Brexit are fully thrashed out.

The transitional period is the timeline from March 2019 to December 2020, in which Britain is given space to adjust to life after Brexit.

The move means any agreed solutions to the Irish Border will be given an opportunity to be worked out in full.

It has also softened the likelihood of Britain crashing out of the EU without any deal - as it means negotiators can now start talks on trade.

Crucially, during the transitional period the UK will remain part of the EU's single market and customs union.

Therefore the British must continue to abide by all existing EU laws and implement any new regulations, despite the fact that it will no longer be a member of the EU.

This includes all four fundamental freedoms - including freedom of movement.

"They've accepted it means full implementation of 'EU acquis' - essentially the rights and obligations of all member states," said an Irish source.

There is now "broad alignment between the UK and EU positions", the draft text says.

However, the text contains little to oppose EU demands for free movement of people, and no suggestion of a veto to block new EU laws.

This arrangement will not go down well with hardline Brexiteers and Mrs May will face serious opposition.

It puts the UK in the worst-case scenario of all. As Britain will no longer be an EU member, it will lose all voting rights and influence.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has previously described this situation as turning Britain in to a "vassal state" - without full autonomy over its future.

The UK is still unhappy with the length of time given for transition - and it now potentially wants a longer bridging phase. This would last until the complexities of its new scenario are fully thrashed out.

"The UK agrees this points to a period of around two years, but wishes to discuss with the EU the assessment that supports its proposed end date," says the UK in the draft text.

However, there is no appetite within Europe to give Britain any more time past the December 2020 deadline.

The EU's seven-year budget is up for renewal in 2021 so it is considered too complicated to negotiate this at the same time as Britain remains in limbo.

There is also a strong feeling among the institutions and member states that Brexit should not take up more time than is absolutely required.

It came as Tánaiste Simon Coveney once again said Brexit cannot undermine the hard won gains of the Northern Ireland peace process.

On a trip to the US, which will include meetings with officials from President Donald Trump's administration, he said Ireland wanted the closest possible future connection between the European Union and the UK.

He said it was in the EU's interests and overwhelmingly in Ireland's to have a confident and co-operative UK.

"The other key strategic objective for us is to ensure that the outcome of Brexit does not in any way undermine the hard won gains of the peace process, as exemplified by the Good Friday Agreement," he added.

Irish Independent

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