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Analysis

UK caves on transition laws, ‘vassal’ status beckons

by Luke Lythgoe | 15.03.2018

David Davis has welcomed proposals for a “joint committee” to deal with new EU laws affecting the UK during the Brexit transition period. Though the Brexit secretary made it sound like a victory, it’s yet another climbdown from the government which previously denied new rules would be a problem.

Asked on Newsnight whether the UK would be a vassal state during transition, Davis said the government wanted “a joint committee to deal with any issues… and a duty of good faith on both sides”. This is in line with the draft agreement drawn up by the EU for negotiation at next week’s summit. It promises to “consult” the UK when drafting new laws which may affect it.

A promise of “good faith” may just about be enough if we were only going to be in limbo-land for 21-months after quitting the EU. After all, there won’t be too many new EU rules coming into force during such a short period. So not having any votes in the Council of Ministers, any MEPs or a Commissioner won’t matter too much.

But 21-months won’t be long enough. It will merely push the economic cliff edge to the end of 2020. To reach the kind of comprehensive trade agreement with the EU that Theresa May wants will take years – the best guess is around five. Over such a longer period of time, we could be subject to lots of new laws. Mere consultation won’t be much protection against vassalage.

Davis insists that 21-months will be enough – and says he’s relaxed at agreeing that date rather than the slightly longer 2-year transition that the government had wanted. But this is another climbdown that will put us in a weaker position if we need to extend that limbo period. The end of 2020 coincides with the end of the EU’s current budget cycle. That means the UK will be applying for an extension during a budget period over which it had no part in negotiating, but having already coughed up for the previous budget round. The EU would have us over a barrel and could potentially extract a lot of money.

The UK could be trapped as a rule-taker paying money into the EU budget for years to come. But the government doesn’t seem to mind, so desperate are they to push Brexit through. Even Tory Brextremist Jacob Rees-Mogg, who used to rail against us becoming a vassal state, has zipped his mouth and said those who criticise the government are nitpicking.

In the referendum two years ago, the people were told we’d take control. It’s now increasingly clear we will lose control. All the more reason to give the public a vote on the miserable Brexit deal the prime minister is negotiating to make sure they really want out.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon