You can’t have an “implementation period” after Brexit without a deal

26 March 2019
What was claimed

Theresa May should drop her deal, extend the implementation period to the end of 2021 if necessary; use it to negotiate a free trade deal; pay the fee; but come out of the EU now—without the backstop.

Our verdict

The implementation period is part of Mrs May’s deal—in order to leave the EU imminently and still have an implementation period the UK would need to pass that deal.

“How will we be able to take back control of our laws? Will we really do free trade deals? And can we really go on with a negotiating team that has so resoundingly failed? If she cannot give that evidence of change—she should drop the deal, and go back to Brussels, and simply set out the terms that so many on both sides—remainers and leavers— now believe are sensible.

“Extend the implementation period to the end of 2021 if necessary; use it to negotiate a free trade deal; pay the fee; but come out of the EU now—without the backstop. It is time for the PM to channel the spirit of Moses in Exodus, and say to Pharaoh in Brussels—LET MY PEOPLE GO.”

Boris Johnson MP, 24 March 2019

This set of suggestions from Boris Johnson’s Telegraph column touches on an issue we have previously written about several times: the misleading idea that we can leave the EU with no Brexit deal and still enter a transition period.

Although Mr Johnson doesn’t explicitly call for no deal in the article, he calls on Theresa May to both “drop” her Brexit deal and come out of the EU “now”, but also to carry out an action—in extending the implementation period to 2021—that can only happen if a deal is passed.

The “implementation” or “transition” period is part of Theresa May’s proposed withdrawal agreement with the EU. It’s meant to kick in immediately after we leave the EU and run to the end of 2020 (although it can be extended by one or two years). In that time we would remain in the single market and the customs union—and the period is designed to give us more time to negotiate a future trade deal with the EU.

For Theresa May to try and follow the full set of Mr Johnson’s suggestions—dropping her deal, leaving the EU imminently, with no Irish backstop, but also with an implementation period—would require a remarkable turn of events. She would have to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement, which the EU have said they will not do, asking for changes that the EU have repeatedly refused, in the space of a few days.

We know that the Irish backstop is a red line for the EU, so any deal would have to include it.

And last week, the European Council agreed to extend the Brexit deadline to 22 May on the condition that Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement is passed this week. That means that, if the UK is to leave the EU imminently with a deal—as Mr Johnson’s suggestions imply—it will have to be with the current withdrawal agreement.

If the withdrawal agreement is not approved by parliament, then the UK will have to “indicate a way forward” before 12 April. The possible outcomes in this case are a no deal Brexit, a long extension to the date that we leave the EU, or revoking Article 50 and not leaving at all.

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