In an effort to break the Brexit negotiation deadlock over the Irish backstop, it is reported that Theresa May has conceded that the standstill transition period could be extended beyond its current deadline of December 2020. This would keep the UK fully economically aligned with the EU, but without voting rights. This has led to criticism from members of the Conservative party on both sides of the Brexit debate. Jacob Rees-Mogg is fond of saying that the UK will become a subservient, “vassal state”.
However, whether it helps deal with Ireland or not (a question requiring its own dedicated piece), inserting an option to extend the transition period into the withdrawal agreement was always needed and is eminently sensible.
It has been largely missed in the domestic Brexit debate, but the reality is that – assuming the withdrawal agreement is signed – the UK will leave the EU without having certainty over the future relationship. The political declaration on the future relationship, which will accompany the withdrawal agreement, will not legally bind either the EU or UK to a specific outcome, and in all likelihood will be vague with regards to the future relationship, leaving multiple options on the table.
Sam Lowe is a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.
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