Let’s think about this idea of a second transition, beyond the end of 2020, for a bit.

[This piece was originally written in the format of a Twitter thread and has been minorly edited and corrected.] 

Essentially, it seems the UK Government is floating this as a way to avoid having to finalise the new relationship within the (short) transition period from next March.

Given the disarray over just the customs element — which is the least of it all — that’s not so silly, especially if it also allows Theresa May to buy more time from her backbench (which probably needs some language about a harder final outcome).

However, some problems arise. Because these things always have problems.

A big one is legal basis.

The Article 50 process has already been worked overtime on transition (which it doesn’t provide for at all), hence the growing feeling that extending the format on that legal basis alone isn’t viable.

Moreover, extending the Article 50 transition would mean a UK that does everything a member state does, except have representation in institutions.

So, going beyond the end of 2020 would mean opening up a big Multiannual Financial Framework💬 problem that no one wants.

So, another legal basis would be both prudent and politic.

That points to the provisions on third-state relations, where the options are much better understood.

The idea would presumably be to transpose the backstop language into a time — or condition — limited period (i.e. when they can get the new relationship sorted).

UK gets more space.

EU avoids a cliff-edge.

Job done.


Problems. Of course.

The nature of the backstop means it would be a mixed agreement, so that means ratification by unanimity, including those pesky sub-national parliaments, so not quick or easy to do.

Plus, you might be coming back to ratify the new relationship a couple of years later.

Plus, it would still be a novel agreement, both in scope and duration, so simplification gains over the future relationship negotiations might be minimal.

And the big political problem for the UK hard Brexiters is that they might lock in this second transition.

Given that it would be stupid not to have a duration extension mechanism on this second transition, and given it would logically be linked to getting a new relationship, if the EU stalled the later, than no escape, short of unilateral abandonment of this text.

In short, a second transition looks cunning, but it has got plenty of problems (if anyone buys it in the first place).🔷

Embed from Getty Images

(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected.)

(Cover: Pixabay.)



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Professor at the University of Surrey. All aspects of Brexit and EU-UK relations, plus some learning and teaching.

Guildford, UK. Articles in PMP Magazine Website