Could there be an “implementation period” after a no deal Brexit?

Published: 18th Jan 2019

“The Civil Service have been working incredibly hard on no deal planning and preparation so much of these fear stories don’t exist…

“So what we’ve got to do, is calmly look at … how do we have a situation that works for both sides and an implementation period for a no deal?”

Esther McVey MP, 14 January 2018

This week former government minister Esther McVey talked about how, if we left the EU with no deal, there should be “an implementation period for a no deal.”

We’ve previously written about politicians wrongly stating that we can leave the EU with no deal and still enter a “transition period”.  Ms McVey’s comments are slightly more open to interpretation, but still potentially confusing.

A no deal Brexit would mean we leave the EU, as well as the single market and customs union, on 29 March 2019 (assuming there has been no extension of the Article 50 deadline) and begin trading with the EU on WTO terms.

An “implementation period for a no deal” could refer to a few things.

It could simply refer to a general period of preparation up until 29 March if it becomes clear that the country is heading towards leaving the EU with no deal. The government has made some no deal preparations already.

Alternatively, there could in theory  be a short “standstill” transition period after 29 March during which the UK prepares to trade with the EU under WTO terms. But this brief transition would still have to be agreed with the EU and approved by the UK parliament, so still requires a “deal” of some kind – albeit one short of the full withdrawal agreement (which is that people normally mean when they use the term “deal”).

But neither of these should be confused with the “transition period” or “implementation period” that is outlined in the draft withdrawal agreement negotiated by the UK government and EU representatives (the current version of which was voted down by the House of Commons on 15 January).

Over the past few years, the terms “transition period” and “implementation period” have come to specifically describe this two year period post-Brexit during which the UK temporarily stays in the single market and customs union. That period would be used to negotiate the future trade relationship with the EU.

But this two year “implementation period” only happens if the UK and EU agree a withdrawal deal before 29 March 2019—something that won’t have happened in a no deal scenario.

Brexit is already a complex topic; that’s probably not helped by politicians using terms that have commonly understood meanings in an imprecise or ambiguous way.

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