Britain will get a Brexit transition deal lasting just 20 months, EU sources say

  • May will not be offered the two-year transition deal she wants, EU sources say.
  • Brussels is likely to propose 20 months instead, to fit their budget period.
  • Senior business figures have called for the transition to last up to 10 years.

LONDON — The European Union is likely to offer Theresa May a significantly shorter transition period than the two-year time frame she hopes for, Brussels sources have told the Guardian.

In a recent speech in Florence, May outlined the government’s desire to secure an “implementation period” lasting two years, in which most of Britain’s current relationship with the EU will continue, including “current terms” of single market access.

Under May’s proposal, the transition will begin after “Brexit day” at the end of March 2019 and conclude in March 2021.

The proposal went some way to calming the nerves of business leaders and most MPs, who fear that leaving the EU with no transition in place —  known as a “cliff edge” Brexit —  would huge inflict damage on Britain’s economy.

However, the Guardian’s sources claim the EU is more likely to offer British negotiators a transitional period concluding at the end of December 2020, as this would coincide with the end of the bloc’s seven-year budget.

The EU also reportedly plans to insist that Britain remain part of the common fisheries policy during the transition. As its annual quotas run by calendar years, this would also suggest a December cut-off. 

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, appeared to hint at a 20-month transition period earlier this week, telling European press: “To my mind, it makes sense that it covers the financial period, so until 2020.”

This news could worry British businesses, which lobbied for as long a transition deal as realistically possible in order to give them time to prepare for life outside the EU and its institutions.

Last week BT chairman Mike Rake told Bloomberg it is “absolutely clear” that a transitional period ought to last somewhere between five and ten years in order give business enough time to prepare:

The question of whether Britain will need a period of transition following Brexit day was a hot topic of debate within the Conservative Party leading up to the prime minister’s keynote Florence speech.

Chancellor Philip Hammond made the case for transition. However, some of the party’s ardent Brexiteers were suspicious that transition was simply a euphemism for staying in the EU after March 2019.

Britain needs a transitional Brexit deal of up to 10 years, BT’s chairman says
— Bloomberg Brexit (@Brexit) October 20, 2017

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