Expert View

Transition to what?

by David Hannay | 24.07.2017

I suppose we are expected to be relieved to be told that the cabinet is now unanimously of the view that Britain will need a transitional period before moving to full Brexit – even if it does still have to be called an implementation phase in order not to frighten the government’s Brexiter supporters’ horses too much. It is a relief to stop being told that everything can be done and dusted by March 2019 and that crashing out without a deal would be “perfectly OK” as Boris Johnson put it. But it is only the sort of relief you get from ceasing to bang your head against a brick wall.

The problem is that the cabinet seems no nearer to being able to answer the crucial question “transition to what?” Without an answer to that question there is no chance that the EU 27 will find this epiphany either convincing or capable of being implemented. And British business which has, rather belatedly found its voice in pushing for a transitional period, will soon realise that it is only of limited help to them if the transition proves merely to be a slower journey to a destination that is damaging to their future prospects.

So long as the government continues to rule out pre-emptively both Single Market and Customs Union options as possible destinations we will still, almost certainly, be travelling towards a damaging destination which we will simply reach a bit later. Better surely to go into the negotiations for a new partnership with an open mind and in a spirit of pragmatism; and to test what might be on offer before making up one’s mind?

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Nor does vague talk about transitional periods – or implementation phases – answer a whole lot of other important questions. There are plenty of difficult ones around, such as what to do about the essential co-operation over law enforcement and counter-terrorism. Instruments like the European Arrest Warrant, the Schengen Information System, the exchange of DNA information under the Prüm decisions, membership of Europol and Eurojust, make no provisions for being maintained with a third country , which is presumably what Britain will be in April 2019, transition or no transition.

Those 34 EU regulatory agencies on whose rulings we rely for a whole range of ongoing decisions are not easily subjected to transitional arrangements unless by such arrangements one simply means maintaining the status quo. And transitional arrangements in all these and many other areas will require contributions to the EU budget and some appropriate international dispute settlement procedures.

Perhaps it was, after all, fortunate that the EU imposed its view on sequencing the negotiations so that we are still a few months away from the opening of negotiations on the new partnership. That does give the government the opportunity to re-set its Brexit strategy, rather than struggling on with the frozen certainties of Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech in January, which it is already clear will lead only to deadlock and a bad outcome.

Let us hope that over the summer break that re-set begins to take shape.

Edited by Bill Emmott

4 Responses to “Transition to what?”

  • One general observation, stimulated by though not directly on David Hannay’s article. Perhaps I have missed it but I do not see much on your otherwise excellent website on the crucial motivation of many Brexiteers: whatever the costs and pain of Brexit may turn out to be, we would rather suffer those than rule by an emerging European superstate. This was, as I recall, the burden of Nigel Lawson’s powerful plea for the UK to leave in The Times in October 2015 (“For Britain’s sake, let’s get out of Europe”). Has it ever been answered satisfactorily?

    • Sounds to me as if Lawson was using the “royal” we, and speaking for himself and a few of his unpleasant hard-line cronies.

      • Unfortunately for Neil McCart, and unpleasant reading it may be for him, but he should be reminded that Nigel Lawson was not speaking for the ‘Royal’ we. He was speaking for the 52% of the population who voted to leave this European Union, and many others beside.

        I resent being called a hard line crony by someone who is so bigoted that he cannot see, or appreciate or accept that not only a majority of the voting public voted to leave the European Union (an oxymoron, if ever there was one).

        It is also sad that Remainers like Neil McCart cannot understand that the Referendum is over. The British people have decided. We are leaving the European Union. Grow up and eccept it.

        If he does not like it, there are 26 other countries to which he can go.

  • “…a transitional period before moving to full Brexit.”
    Transition to What? Well to the r27 of course! (cynical, but only slightly.)
    Business need time to adjust to the new situation. They can choose between a. moving to The single market, or b. staying in the UK single market. Nobody has a clue what that will look like, at the moment.