UK’s post-Brexit transition phase will have an end date, says Downing Street

Brexiteers have long feared an open-ended following of European Union rules

Downing Street meeting: Theresa May greets Mark Rutte; the Dutch PM said the UK’s EU partners needed greater clarity about what she wanted. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty

Downing Street meeting: Theresa May greets Mark Rutte; the Dutch PM said the UK’s EU partners needed greater clarity about what she wanted. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty


Downing Street has insisted that the UK’s withdrawal agreement with the European Union will specify a time limit for a post-Brexit transition, despite London’s challenge to the EU’s proposal that it should last just 21 months.

In a document outlining its formal negotiating position on the transition, the British government says it wants to “discuss” with the EU its assessment of how long the transition should last.

“The UK believes the period’s duration should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin the future relationship. 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,” the document says.

In her speech at Lancaster House last year Theresa May said a transition phase should last for “about two years”. But the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has proposed that it end on December 31st, 2020, when the EU’s current seven-year budget period ends.

Brexiteers have long feared that a transition period during which the UK continued to follow all EU rules could be extended indefinitely. But a Downing Street spokesman insisted on Wednesday that “there will be an end date included in the agreement”.

The document published on Wednesday calls for the UK to be consulted on new EU rules during the transition and for a say in fisheries policy, including the setting of catch limits. Mr Barnier has warned that, if the UK is unwilling to agree to the EU’s terms, there will be no transition agreement.

“Road to nowhere”

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said after a meeting with Ms May at Downing Street that the United Kingdom’s EU partners needed greater clarity about what she wanted. During prime minister’s questions at Westminster, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said nobody knew what the government wanted.

“We are halfway through the six speeches we were told would set out the government’s negotiating position. So far all we have had is waffle and empty rhetoric. Businesses need to know. People want to know. Even the prime minister’s backbenchers are demanding to know, but it is not clear from today’s exchanges. This government are not on the road to Brexit: they are on the road to nowhere,” he said.

The prime minister and senior ministers in her Brexit cabinet subcommittee will spend eight hours at Chequers on Thursday in an attempt to agree on an approach to the next phase of talks with the European Union. The meeting comes as divisions among Conservatives returned to the surface after the leaking of a letter to Ms May from more than 60 backbench MPs calling for a hard Brexit.

The letter, sent on behalf of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group, or ERG, promised strong backing for the prime minister’s approach to Brexit but offered a number of “suggestions” about the forthcoming negotiations. These include full regulatory autonomy from the EU and the ability to negotiate new trade deals with other countries during any transition period.

The former education secretary Nicky Morgan, who advocates a soft Brexit, said the hardliners clearly believed they had captured the prime minister. “This isn’t a letter. It is a ransom note,” she said. “The ERG clearly think they have the prime minister as their hostage.”